Too bad Representative Mike Pitts serves in the South Carolina legislature—because he’s the Missouri Senate’s kind of guy.
Pitts has introduced a bill he calls the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law.” Missouri Senate leader Ron Richard might want to take a look at it. Richard, you know, has decided the Senate just cannot have reporters at the press table on the Senate floor because one of them had the temerity to tweet something the former Senate leader thought he was saying privately to another senator (within hearing distance of the press table) and instead of the former leader talking to the sin-filled former press table occupant, he complained to Richard who, now that he is in charge of the joint, has decided EVERYBODY who covers the Senate is too leprous to be that close to senators. He’s establishing a special colony in one of the side galleries. The Senate has voted 24-6 to support the establishment of the colony and the Senate Ministry of Information is trying to restrict access to senators even from there.
Representative Pitts has a bill in a South Carolina House committee that would “establish requirements for persons before working as a journalist for a media outlet and for media outlets before hiring a journalist…to establish fines and criminal penalties for violation…”
He demands that anyone “seeking to register” has to provide a criminal record background check, a document from the journalist’s employer attesting to the person’s journalistic competence, and pay a registration fee. In return, the person can cover the news for two years. But the South Carolina Secretary of State can revoke the registration if, among other things, that person is later fond “not competent to be a journalist.”
Who, in Pitts’ view, is not competent to be a journalist? Anybody who has been found by a court to have committed libel, slander, or invasion of privacy, someone convicted of a felony if the felony was committed “to collect, write, or distribute news or other current information for a media outlet.” Of course, people like Pitts are the ones who write definitions of “felony.”
Here’s a good one: A person is not competent, in Pitts’ view, if that journalist “has demonstrated a reckless disregard of the basic codes and canons of professional journalism associations, including a disregard of truth, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability, as applicable to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.” Someone like Pitts, I guess, would make that determination.
What happens if someone works as a journalist without being licensed by the state?
First offense is a $25 fine. Second offense is a $50 fine and maybe fifteen days in jail, too. A third offense is a $500 fine and perhaps thirty days in jail. And if the employer doesn’t ditch the creep, the employer can be fined.
BUT, if this were law in Missouri, that person could still sit at the press table in the Senate, at least until March 29 when the leper colony is supposed to be open.
Rep. Pitts has told the Charleston Post and Courier that he’s not a “press hater.” He’s just upset that the press doesn’t respect Second Amendment rights and “has no qualms about demonizing firearms.” And he asks, “Do journalists, by definition, really adhere to a code of ethics?”
The answer is, generally, yes. And, generally, it is adherence to professional standards that makes politicians uncomfortable, especially when money is tied to their political positions. And Pitts was the target of a Post and Courier investigation on that subject when it reported that Pitts, a hunter, took trips to Alaska and three other western states to “hobknob at summits with ‘sportsmen legislators.’” On one trip, he used campaign money to pay for gas in his rental car. Pitts is a member of the South Carolina House Ethics Committee.
The newspaper quotes the head of the South Carolina Press Association, Bill Rogers, who points out that “The Constitution doesn’t say anything about responsible journalism, it says free journalism.”
Pitts, by the way, also once tried to have the state ban the use of United States currency and replace it with gold and silver coins minted in the state because he objected to the way Congress spends money and the way the federal government prints it.
Yep, he’d fit right in here.