Imagine that you are a journalist about to make your big break – the story you have wanted to write about your entire career. You are covering a piece on John O. Brennan, director of the C.I.A., which will expose corruption and change the debate of American domestic policy as we know it. Before you know it, the F.B.I. is harassing you, you are reaching out to friends and lawyers for help, and your brand new Mercedes C250 Coupe blows up. You’re dead. According to multiple news outlets (New York Magazine, Huffington Post, Infowars, RT USA), that is exactly what happened to Michael Hastings, a journalist for The Rolling Stone on June 18th, 2013. Hastings’ death gave every journalist across the nation a very clear message: be careful of what you write about. Freedom of the Press is specifically protected under the United States Constitution. The press is supposed to act as the seeing-eye dog to the American public – a trend that is literally dying with this type of intimidation and invasion of privacy that our federal government is imposing on our journalists, whether “professional,” or “citizen.”
There are six corporations that own all of the major media outlets in the United States: General Electric, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Comcast (formerly Time Warner), and C.B.S. As a result, the content, direction, and substance of our major media outlets are centrally controlled by few. The journalists of these stations are tricked into thinking that they are doing America good deeds by selling stories to them and filling their air time with a divisive political agenda: Left vs. Right, Democrat vs. Republican, Good vs. Evil, and so on and so forth. This type of irresponsible reporting creates a hostile environment in the United States by applying group thoughts to the general public. Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian), the journalist who broke Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency (N.S.A.) mass surveillance, received inflammatory remarks from media outlets such as NBC (Comcast), and Fox News (News-Corp). These were also the stations that “fuelled the debate” of whether or not Edward Snowden was a traitor or a hero instead of asking legitimate questions like what the legitimacy is of the surveillance programs. Thanks to the support of the American public and the international community, the news outlets have backed off on their initial condemnation and have supported Snowden as a hero. Part of that transition in sentiment was the revelation from Snowden’s leak that the N.S.A. was spying on the Associated Press’ (A.P.) reporters to find where they were getting story leaks from.
The Committee to Protect Journalists discovered that it is next to impossible to keep sources confidential with the way the Justice Department seized A.P.’s metadata records, according to GlobalResearch.org. The report details the N.S.A.’s ability to retrace a journalist’s research processes and locate sources by tracking past communications and website history. This is a direct violation of the protection of the journalist’s sources. The minute that confidentiality is compromised is the moment that the U.S. Constitution is in danger. A journalist needs the right to keep his or her sources confidential in order to be that seeing-eye dog for the public; the journalist is the victim’s way out if they cannot talk to investigators because the crimes are so corrupt. I would trust a journalist to keep my information safe if I needed to report an incident that is way out of my control. How would I be able to stay safe knowing that every word I say to him is being recorded and stored in a database in an unknown place? I wouldn’t. What are we supposed to do to remedy this?
Abby Martin’s (RT USA) advice to Americans and others around the world that want to make a difference and help change the society we live in is: become a citizen journalist. Citizen journalism is becoming more and more popular in the United States and across the world with the advent of the internet’s social media. Any incident that happens and any news story that needs to be written will be found on social media. This is a tool that is imperative to a free population because it engages everyday citizens in the events happening today in our country. In a world of uncertain political circumstances, it is essential that the population is involved with their surroundings.
Opponents to citizen journalists, like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), attempt to divide the average citizen on the issue, claiming that citizen journalists are not “real” journalists. According to Truth-Out.com, she proposed an amendment that limits the definition of “journalist” to those that the diplomats consider to be “real journalists.” This is very dangerous. Remember the six corporations I was talking about? Only journalists that are contracted under a specific news outlet would be allowed to report the news. It is intimidating — to say the least – that our own legislature would even consider infringing on the First Amendment in such a way. The bill would thereby incriminate anyone the state does not consider a real journalist. This is one of the reasons why we need citizen journalists – to expose stories of perverse state infringement on our rights. Michael Hastings was someone who the legislature would consider a “real journalist,” and he was fixing on exposing corruption in the Obama administration when he was mysteriously killed. What does that say about a state-controlled media?
Michael Hastings’ death was a shock to the journalism community around the world. His death will not be in vain because he has set the example for all journalists to follow the story – no matter what the cost. Some people may say that the press is out of hand and journalists are not “as responsible” as they used to be, but perhaps the American people should change what we consider real journalism to the journalists that report stories based off of facts, not embellished stories based off of what some people consider facts. This type of transition will save our Freedom of the Press: a right that is slowly degrading, but is not gone. It is up to everyone to protect it.