It’s not as if I have plans to leave Worthington, nor do I think a proposed law in Michigan has any real shot at become law. But journalists everywhere, regardless of where they work, should be at least a bit appalled by what a senator in the Wolverine State has put forward as legislation.
Bruce Patterson, a Republican, has introduced a bill that, if passed, would require reporters to obtain licenses. Or did he? A press release issued last week by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity issued a damning statement on Patterson’s proposal. "By introducing a bill to license journalists, Michigan State Senator Bruce Patterson is attempting to control the press and is stepping on constitutional protections. There is a reason why this is a single sponsored bill and has not received much support in the legislature," the statement, in part, read.
Patterson, for his part, posted a statement on his website that accused the media of getting the story wrong. "May 11, 2010, is a day that shall live in infamy," it begins. (Somehow, it seems to me that invoking D-Day as a metaphor is a tad out of place.) Patterson continues: "I introduced Senate Bill No. 1323. I knew it would be somewhat controversial, so I did not seek nor allow any co-sponsors. After all, the bill proposes the establishment of a central repository for information voluntarily submitted by reporters and
would allow those meeting the criteria in the bill to be recognized as registered reporters. Nowhere does the bill speak to licensure or accreditation of reporters."
OK, that clears a lot up. So, instead of Patterson suggesting that reporters be licensed or accredited, he wants reporters to submit information to a "central repository" (huh?) that would get them recognized as, in his words, "registered reporters." (Would the title "registered reporter," or – better yet – some new sort of trademark symbol, be required to appear under a byline?) No matter the precise language, it’s all gibberish to this non-registered, non-licensed, but educated and professionally experienced journalist.
And Patterson didn’t "seek or allow" any co-sponsors? That seems dubious. And there’s more, as the senator uses the rest of statement to bash media and not-so-sneakily push his agenda. "These ‘professionals’ have chosen to not get it right, so how can we the people trust them to provide us with accurate information?" he asks. "How are the people to get meaningful, trustworthy information to elect its leaders on into the future. This has been quite a disturbing experience. I thought that there would be some effort to actually read and get informed. Is there any wonder that our constitutional republic is in such trouble?"
So, apparently Patterson doesn’t trust his constituents to find "meaningful, trustworthy information" on their own; simply having registered reporters certified through some "central repository" (controlled by whom exactly? And by people of some type of political agenda, perhaps?) will do the trick for them! If, indeed, our "constitutional republic is in such trouble," I’m more apt to blame legislators with ridiculously wrong priorities (it’s little secret that Michigan’s economy is among the worst of U.S. states) than a bunch of reporters who – gosh – would be so much more trustworthy if they submitted information to that great (sorry, I can’t resist) central repository in Lansing or Detroit or Cheboygan or wherever.
One more thing about Patterson’s profoundly putrid proposal: the legislation would have reporters vetted for "good moral character." Patterson, by the way, is an attorney. So … did this guy really pass the bar?
That’s my piece on this. No more need be said, really.