The Supreme Court is considering whether to take up a case crucial to protecting real First Amendment freedoms, in which loony-left animal rights group PETA is claiming the Constitution empowers it to lie and engage in other skulduggery in the name of “journalism.”
PETA has challenged a North Carolina law forbidding people from sneaking into businesses under false pretenses to gather information — actions that a federal court already declined to see as covered by the First Amendment when ABC tried to use the tactic against a grocery chain.
The animal lovers want to use those tactics to uncover abuses at farms.
And while digging up info like that is definitely a public service, that doesn’t give would-be journos the right to break the law to get it.
Post reporters can’t out-and-out lie to get a story, let alone trespass on private property or take a job under false pretenses.
They, and their peers in the press, have to follow the same laws as anyone else and try their darnedest to get the story anyway.
It’s kosher to walk into a public meeting and record it without declaring yourself.
It’s the difference between publishing vital public interest docs passed along by a whistleblower and lying your way into the Pentagon to steal the docs.
Whether the latter is morally justified has nothing to do with the law.
Lefties get this when the shoe is on the other foot: Witness their furor at Project Veritas, the gonzo righty investigative outfit.
Its surreptitious recordings and other tactics have brought lawsuits; founder James O’Keefe was in fact arrested in 2010 on charges stemming from his allegedly entering a federal building under false pretenses.
But any attempt to create exemptions for criminal actions done in the name of journalism will erode real First Amendment protections now enjoyed by all American citizens, not just the media.
Journalism is ultimately about holding the powerful to account for their breaches of public trust, be those legal, economic, or otherwise.
It’s impossible for journalists to do that if they don’t hold themselves to standards of impeccable trustworthiness.
The Supremes agreeing to weigh in here will reverberate far beyond the confines of a legal dispute between green wackjobs and worried farmers.
And while this will likely become a politically fiery case, politics must not dictate the outcome.
Otherwise, both the press and the broader public will suffer.