Even in a country where most citizens probably
have no idea what a blog is, it’s not just an academic debate.
Bloggers, some observers say, are becoming major players in everything
from national politics to consumer trends. As a result, "their
conflicts, motives, and agendas matter enormously," says Zephyr
Teachout, who served as Internet director for the Howard Dean campaign.
Now in California, a court will soon decide whether bloggers have
the same legal protections as journalists under "shield" laws that
protect reporters from revealing their sources. Among Apple’s targets
is a 19-year-old blogger who twice recently leaked information about
new company products weeks before Apple unveiled the products
If anything, the lawsuit furthers the reality that it only takes a
bit of Web savvy and few dollars to wield enormous influence. Consider
the Power Line blog, cofounded by Hinderaker. Last year, it helped set
off the mass debunking of CBS’s supposed memos about President Bush’s
National Guard service. Marshall’s Talking Points Memo site, meanwhile,
is a must-read among the Democratic elite.
Ultimately, the issue comes down to whether bloggers
act like traditional journalists, says University of Iowa law professor
and First Amendment specialist Randall Bezanson. Simply expressing
opinions to a tiny audience doesn’t count, he says. If so, "then I’m a
journalist when I write a letter to my mother reporting on what I’m
doing. I don’t think the [constitutional] free-press clause was
intended to extend its protections to letters to mothers from sons."
Uh, does this mean it’s time to get serious?