The Fifth Estate of Journalism in the age of surveillance faces stiff resistance, including from the government, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein seeks to define

The Fifth Estate of Journalism in the age of surveillance faces stiff resistance, including from the government, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein seeks to define “real reporters.”

In a recent Senate committee hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein stated that “shield laws should only apply to “˜real reporters.'” More about that later, but with those words in mind, questions of the famous Fourth Estate naturally arise.

ProPublica, a nonprofit group of investigative reporters, is seen as a part of a Fifth Estate of journalism. That “estate,” obviously building on the long held view of news investigation and reporting as the Fourth Estate, is currently developing and evolving in an age of increasing state surveillance and “homeland security” restrictions. Among other things, some of the established Fourth Estate are not pleased with the Fifth.

At Buzzfeed, Ben Smith writes about one current example of all this, in “ProPublica Joins NSA Chase.”

The nonprofit investigative reporting group ProPublica is among the media organizations with access to some National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden, another suggestion that the reportorial investigation into the NSA’s programs and practices is broader than previously known.

ProPublica … is doing the lead reporting on one piece of the collaboration with the Guardian … and The New York Times … .

With a narrower focus on the tension between and among those reporting from both “fourth” and “fifth” positions, David Carr, at the NY Times, writes “War on Leaks Is Pitting Journalist vs. Journalist.” He remind readers of Daniel Ellsberg, whose 1969 Pentagon Papers revelations first got him indicted, but later “hailed as a hero,” and then turns to Pvt. Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley) and Edward Snowden. (emphasis added throughout)

Their chances of being widely declared heroes aren’t nearly as great … .

… Like almost all whistle-blowers, they are difficult people with complicated motives.
So, too, are the journalists who aid them. It’s not surprising that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who brokered the publishing of Private Manning’s documents, and Glenn Greenwald, the columnist for The Guardian who has led the Snowden revelations, have also come under intense criticism.

What is odd is that many pointing the finger are journalists.

Carr provides several examples of such finger-pointing: David Gregory on “Meet the Press” turning an interview with Greenwald into “Meet the Prosecutor.” Jeffrey Toobin, of The New Yorker and CNN, calling Snowden “a grandiose narcissist who belongs in prison,” and “David Miranda, Mr. Greenwald’s partner who was detained by British authorities for nine hours under antiterror laws, the equivalent of a “˜drug mule.'”

Other instances detailed by Carr include the “withering criticism” of Julian Assange from, among others, The New York Times, and Time senior national correspondent Michael Grunwald tweeting (later apologizing for it): “I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange.”

What have Mr. Assange and Mr. Greenwald done to inspire such rancor from other journalists? …

The larger sense I get from the criticism directed at Mr. Assange and Mr. Greenwald is one of distaste “” that they aren’t what we think of as real journalists. Instead, they represent an emerging Fifth Estate composed of leakers, activists and bloggers who threaten those of us in traditional media. They are, as one says, not like us.

Carr writes that Assange and Greenwald are “activists,” and their “clearly defined political agendas” are not what is expected from a “traditional newsroom.” As Carr also writes, those “beliefs haven’t precluded other news organizations from following their leads.” The antagonism has another result.

… (B)y dwelling on who precisely deserves to be called a journalist and legally protected as such, critics within the press are giving the current administration a justification for their focus on the ethics of disclosure rather than the morality of government behavior.

As Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian, said:

“˜The governments are conflating journalism with terrorism and using national security to engage in mass surveillance. The implications just in terms of how journalism is practiced are enormous.’

About that government response, Dianne Feinstein weighed in. At Popular Resistance:

The most recent congressional threat to the free press in the United States comes from California Democrat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

In a proposed amendment to a media shield law being considered by Congress, Feinstein writes that only paid journalists should be given protections from prosecution for what they say or write. The language in her proposal is raising concerns from First Amendment advocates because it seems to leave out bloggers and other nontraditional forms of journalism that have proliferated in recent years thanks to the Internet.

The proposed federal shield law would protect journalists from having to comply with subpoenas or court orders forcing them to reveal sources and other confidential information. The important question, of course, is how to determine that the shield law applies to one person and not another. …

At a congressional hearing on the matter last week, Feinstein said shield laws should only apply to “˜real reporters.’

An amendment offered by Feinstein would extend shield-law protections to those who work as a “˜salaried employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information,’ though students working for news outlets would similarly be covered. The definition seems to leave out the new tide of bloggers and citizen journalists who thrive on the Internet.

As usually seems to be the case, the Definers are the ones in places of power, and they get to determine the fate of the Definees.

In a July post at AlterNet, Peter Hart wrote a piece that provides some background and context for all of this, in particular, from the big corporate version of the Fourth Estate: “Journalism Is in a Disastrous State ““ But for a Handful of Millionaire Pundits, It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Perhaps the Fourth and Fifth Estates will end up merging in some form or other. That seems a possibility, in part because the Age of the Surveillance State could force it happening, if there’s to be any real separate “estate” to help hold the government accountable. Personally, I hope the Fifth has more to say than the Fourth, but I’m not counting on it.

(Dianne Feinstein Via