Journalists Expect Different Constitutional Standard from Prez

May 5th, 2006 10:14 AM
Michael Kinsley writes in Slate that "journalists sincerely believe" they deserve "constitutional special treatment" when it comes to deciding when to publish classified material. They believe that for Bush to decide when to publish classified material is to give him dictatorial powers. But for them to decide means a victory for the First Amendment.

Many in the media believe that the Constitution contains a "reporter's privilege" to protect the identity of sources in circumstances, like a criminal trial, in which citizens ordinarily can be compelled to produce information or go to jail. The Supreme Court and lower courts have ruled and ruled again that there is no such privilege. And it certainly is not obvious that the First Amendment, which seems to be about the right to speak, actually protects a right not to speak. Yet many in the media not only believe that it does. They believe passionately that it is not merely OK but profoundly noble to follow their own interpretation and ignore the Supreme Court's.

Why must the president obey constitutional interpretations he disagrees with if journalists don't have to? Upholding the Constitution is actually part of his job description. It is not part of theirs....

Maybe you can find an implied journalist's privilege in the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press, but you've got to look pretty hard. Why should the Constitution allow the government to prosecute the provider of stolen government information but not the knowing recipient or to prosecute all other recipients of such information (like two lobbyists currently under investigation) but not journalists?

Maybe journalists sincerely believe they are entitled to such constitutional special treatment. Maybe they are even right about this, and the courts are wrong. But who wants to live in a society where every citizen and government official feels free to act according to his or her own personal interpretation of the Constitution, even after the Supreme Court has specifically said that this interpretation is wrong? President Bush would top my list of people I don't want wandering through the text and getting fancy ideas. But why should he stay out of the "I say what's constitutional around here" game if his tormentors in the press are playing it?