Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Broadcast journalists: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has apologized for the confiscation/erasure of two print reporters audiotaping of a speech last week.
Scalia says that he will now allow such audiotaping by print reporters in the interests of promoting "accurate reporting."
At the time this incident occurred, I thought the actions by the U.S. marshal was out of line, because reporters were not specifically notified before his talk that audiotaping was prohibited. Halting the recordings at the point they were discovered (or be ejected) would probably have been the proper course of action.
The press has talked a lot about how Scalia's refusal to be recorded is somehow out of line. What didn't make any national news was a talk by Justice John Paul Stevens last week at the University of San Diego. At Stevens talk, recording by the press (but not the university) was prohibited. Photographers were also prohibited from attending (though the university did provide the Union-Tribune with a single still photo).
Scalia, perhaps the Court's most conservative jurist, sets down much the same rules as Stevens, the court's most liberal jurist.
Anyway, this hasn't stopped the broadcast types from whining foul.
Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, objected to that distinction in a letter to Justice Scalia yesterday. "There is no legal basis for such discrimination," she wrote. "To exclude television cameras and audio recording is the equivalent of taking away pencil and paper from print reporters."
Frank Fisher, Mississippi bureau chief for The Associated Press, said the apparent apology to its reporter, Denise Grones, represented progress. But he, too, noted discomfort at the varying treatment of the broadcast press.
"The First Amendment covers all of us," he said.
I hate to say it, but sometimes reporters need to get off their First Amendment soapbox. I've never much liked broadcast reporters, mainly because their method of reporting all to often tends to be to read the morning newspaper, distill the articles down to 100 words and go out and shoot a few seconds of video. (One thing the broadcast media does much better than print is consumer reporting.)
Anyway, asking not to be videotaped by the media at a private event is not stepping on the First Amendment by any stretch of the imagination. By that logic, anyone who doesn't want to talk to a member of the press could be accused of somehow being in "violation" of the First Amendment.
The press needs to pick its fights. This isn't one that's worth pursuing. It's crying wolf. The public pays little attention to First Amendment issues as it is -- don't waste all of their attention on inconsequential issues like this.