Licensing journalists? Seriously?
And removing Trump from the ballot? Not so fast ...
It’s not unusual for demagogic politicians to propose legislation that has little chance of being signed into law. But even by those low standards, a proposal by an Oklahoma lawmaker to license journalists and subject them to government drug tests shocks the senses.
Oklahoma state Sen. Nathan Dahm has filed a bill, dystopically entitled the “Common Sense Freedom of Press Control Act,” requiring journalists and others who produce content, as well as the media outlets themselves, to obtain a license from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the state’s fossil-fuel industry and its public utilities. Sounds like the perfect controlling authority to police the news.
The bill would also require journalists to buy a $1 million liability policy, while their employer must obtain a policy covering the company up to $50 million, with corporate licenses themselves renewable annually for a fee of $250,000 — a burden that could put smaller outlets out of business.
Here’s the kicker (for me anyway): journalists must also “complete a propaganda-free safety training course” of at least eight hours, developed in cooperation with PragerU, an advocacy group founded by conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager that “advances Judeo-Christian values,” according to its website, and whose videos includes such lessons as “Leftism has become a religion.”
It goes without saying that it’s very unlikely that even the Oklahoma legislature, which is utterly dominated by Republicans (the GOP margin in the House is 81-20), would pass such a law because it would be challenged by practically every media outlet in the Sooner State and almost certainly would be ruled unconstitutional in the federal courts on First Amendment grounds.
I never went to journalism school but I’ve always told young reporters I’ve mentored that journalism isn’t a “profession” in the sense that we normally use the word. Those who practice an actual profession have advanced training, usually in the form of a bachelor’s degree or higher and are licensed to practice in their areas.
My mentor at the Lakeville Journal, the late great Bob Estabrook, the former chief diplomatic correspondent and editorial page editor of the Washington Post, likened journalism to a trade. But even then, tradespeople such as plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians, are typically licensed by the state and must stay current on the latest developments in their fields, lest they make costly mistakes and expose themselves to negligence lawsuits.
There are no such requirements for journalists for a very good reason. If journalists need a license from the state in order to work, might the state be tempted to deny or suspend the license of a pesky reporter who was reporting on matters unflattering to the state — or in the case of Oklahoma, negative news about the oil and gas industries?
If media outlets have to shell out a quarter of a million dollars for a license every year, there would surely be less coverage of state government in Oklahoma. Then again, maybe that was Dahm’s intent: less sunshine; increasing clouds. We all know where this can lead.
The problem here is not so much Dahm’s legislation specifically as it is the possibility that others will step forward to emulate him. Conservatives like Dahm, who also serves as chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party, need to resist the impulse to put “liberal” journalists in their places, lest progressives do the same in states like Massachusetts and New York, where conservative newspapers like the New York Post and right-wing radio talk show hosts such as Howie Carr serve the needs of likeminded audiences. As the saying goes, careful what you wish for.
John Small, a member of the board of directors of the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists, characterized Dahm’s proposal this way in an interview with the Oklahoman, the daily newspaper in the state capital: “I wonder if it’s a knee-jerk response on his part, because there are journalists in Oklahoma, myself included, who think the good senator may be a couple of McNuggets short of a Happy Meal.”
Remove Trump from the ballot? Not so fast …
I’ve been following the developments this afternoon at the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices are holding oral arguments about the challenge to a Colorado ruling that could exclude former President Donald Trump from that state’s presidential ballot this November.
The question at stake is whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment applies to Trump because of his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election by sending a mob to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Section 3 bars those who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding federal or state office. It does not explicitly prohibit them from being on ballots, however.
From my perspective, there is little doubt that Trump “engaged in insurrection” by his irresponsibly fiery pep talk on the Ellipse just before the riot. Yes, my conservative friends, I know he used the word “peacefully,” but he did so only once at the outset of the speech as more of a disclaimer than anything else. And he failed to call off his dogs for 180 minutes as he watched the riot on television. A case could even be made for criminal negligence.
As of 5 p.m. just about every headline I saw said something to the effect that the high court “appeared skeptical” of the Colorado decision — and rightly so. I take a back seat to no one in despising Trump, but courts have a habit of deferring to voters. And there is enough general disagreement as to whether Trump “engaged in insurrection” that the matter is better left to voters.
Some have insisted that the constitution has limits on who can hold the office of president. The office is restricted, for example, to “natural born” U.S citizens who are at least 35 years old. So why apply those limitations but not those pertaining to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment? The answer, of course, is that age and place of birth are easily verifiable truths.
My view is that the case of a presidential candidate publicly accused of engaging in an insurrection demands some form of due process before removing him from the ballot and effectively disenfranchising MAGA Nation.
Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts said that if the Colorado decision is upheld, other states will proceed with disqualification proceedings of their own for either Democratic or Republican candidates.
“And it will come down to just a handful of states that are going to decide the presidential election. That’s a pretty daunting consequence,” Roberts said.