Thursday, December 13, 2007

Proving Milton Friedman Right

One of Milton Friedman's many memorable quotes is this:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers
need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

David Hazinski, apparently a journalist himself, today proves the truth of this statement in his call for what amounts to licensing and mandatory professional certification of "citizen-journalism," a term which Hazinski considers to include anything from "political blogs to cellphone video of that sniper who opened fire at an Omaha Mall." Not surprisingly, Hazinski's demand for journalist regulation is based almost entirely on his own factual errors and straw-man arguments.

In essence, Hazinski wishes to rewrite the First Amendment so that "freedom of the press" applies only to people who the state and/or large news organizations deem to be worthy of being called "the press." He also would rewrite that essential foundation of the American ideal so that "freedom of speech" is defined as "freedom of speech outside of media outlets of mass dissemination."

But ignoring that little First Amendment problem, there is the little issue of journalists seeking to restrict access to their profession under the guise of concern for the consumer- even though the consumer isn't exactly demanding protection against rogue "citizen-journalists." Indeed, if we've learned anything over the last 10-15 years, consumers are far more concerned about rogue "journalists" in the establishment press far more than they are concerned about what a blogger might write or a teenager might post on YouTube. (As a commenter at Hot Air points out: does Hazinski not remember Richard Jewell? What about the Duke Lax case, which the MSM jumped on while the blogosphere remained largely skeptical? Oddly, there were virtually no retractions or apologies issued by the traditional media on that one, either).

As justification for this licensing, Hazinski writes:

CNN's last YouTube Republican debate included a question from a retired general who is on Hillary Clinton's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender steering committee. False Internet rumors about Sen. Barack Obama attending a radical Muslim school became so widespread that CNN and other news agencies did stories
debunking the rumors. There are literally hundreds of Internet hoaxes and false
reports passed off as true stories, tracked by sites such as
Having just anyone produce widely distributed stories without control can have the reverse effect from what advocates intend. It's just a matter of time before something like a faked Rodney King beating video appears on the air somewhere.

A few problems with this: first off, CNN (a traditional news outlet) invited the retired general to attend the debate; the fact that the general was associated with the Clinton campaign had, in and of itself, nothing to do with the validity of the question, which was absolutely accurate as far as it went. Had CNN just asked the question on its own at the suggestion of the general, I doubt that there would have been any concerns. Second, as is quite well known, the Obama madrassa story was not and is not an "internet rumor"; it was first widely reported on Fox News, after being broken by Insight magazine, an online subscription magazine that was originally a traditional print weekly- so the blame for that one falls not on bloggers and "citizen-journalists," but on traditional journalists. In other words, the two specific examples he cites as showing the problem with "citizen-journalists" were entirely the mistakes of two traditional media outlets. Unless he wants to claim that the retired general had no right to submit the question in the first place. As for the Fox News Obama story, Fox News' "retraction" of their story was less than sincere; meanwhile, the blogosphere (which had nothing to do with the rumor in the first place) got over the story almost immediately, and I don't know of a single widely read right-wing blogger who still hangs on to that myth.

As for the various internet hoaxes he broadly cites- yes, they exist; but they rarely get any traction, and if they do, they are quickly proven false by the thousands of other "citizen-journalists" who may be skeptical of the claim. A "citizen-journalist" who gets a reputation for inaccuracy is a "citizen-journalist" who will quickly find himself without an audience. As for Hazinski's "matter of time before a Rodney King beating hoax" comment- well, that is nothing but pure fear-mongering that falsely pretends the MSM actually prevents inaccurate information from doing damage. The number of unretracted or too-little-too-late retracted stories from the "professionals" is well-documented.

Finally, I want to address this:

Advocates argue that the acts of collecting and distributing makes these people "journalists." This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a "citizen surgeon" or someone who can read a law book is a "citizen lawyer." Tools are merely that. Education, skill and standards are really what make people into trusted professionals. What makes someone into a trusted professional - in any profession - is experience, proven integrity, and proven competence. Certainly education can develop a professional's skills; but to say that a person can't develop sufficient skills or competence without a formal, specific education is to say that Abraham Lincoln (with his mere 18 months in a lifetime of formal schooling) was an incompetent attorney who was a danger to any potential clients. I might add that Hazinski has clearly never worked in a law firm (and even more clearly, never as an attorney, as I have); if he had, he would know that you will rarely find a veteran paralegal who is not far more competent at understanding and advising on legal issues than a first, second, or third year associate attorney. Alas, the law says that the attorney must provide the advice; but more often than not, the paralegal (especially in a small firm setting) is far more capable of providing that advice than the freshly minted attorney. By the same token, I wonder how many career nurses Hazinski knows; if he knew a couple, he would know just how frequently those nurses save patient lives by catching a doctor's error.

As with any profession, the hallmark of a trustworthy - and successful - journalist isn't pedigree (ie, elite journalism school) or even arbitrary standards set by some unknown third party. No, the hallmark of a trustworthy and successful journalist, as with any trustworthy and successful professional, is experience, competence, effort, and a hard-earned reputation for good journalism, as well as, yes, a little bit of luck (but that means nothing without the first few traits).

(H/T memeorandum)