Journalism is not a profession. As I tell my students, a profession has enforceable credentials and codes of ethics, often regulated by the government. You need a license to practice medicine or the law, or even to cut hair. But the First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” ensures that anyone can practice journalism, whether it be a neighborhood gadfly with a Facebook page or a well-paid Washington reporter.
Finally, though, an Oklahoma state senator proposes to professionalize journalism and bestow upon us the dignity that we deserve. According to Graycen Wheeler, a Report for America corps member writing for the public radio station KOSU, State Sen. Nathan Dahm, a Republican, recently unveiled a bill that would require anyone working for a news organization to undergo a criminal background check and regular drug tests, and to obtain a license from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Reporters would also need $1 million in liability insurance and would be required to sit through eight hours of “safety training” offered by PragerU, a notorious right-wing education outfit.
Oh, and lest I forget, stories would have to be accompanied by the following language: “Warning: This entity is known to provide propaganda. Consuming propaganda may be detrimental to your health and health of the republic.” The bill, in case you were wondering, is called the Common Sense Freedom of Press Control Act, which certainly has a nice Orwellian ring to it.
Dahm, I should note, is also chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party. And as Walter Einenkel writes at Daily Kos, the legislation may stand little chance of passing, but it’s of a piece with other efforts in Oklahoma to ban books and to “target students who identify as ‘furries,’ ostensibly creating legislation based on debunked right-wing urban legends.”
The Oklahoma bill has raised eyebrows across the country — including in The Enterprise of Bourne, Massachusetts, where an unsigned editorial by editor Calli Remillard puts it this way: “We cannot say whether or not actually passing and implementing this legislation is the good senator’s true endgame, but it might not matter. Threats to the American free press are very legitimate and cropping up in seemingly all corners of the nation, and it takes one small spark to start a fire in a political climate as incendiary as ours.”