Articles

Articles published in the Richland County Bar Association's Richbar News

H 4702 General Bill, By Rep. Mike Pitts (R) Laurens

March 22, 2016Richbar News Articles

“I don’t see,” purred Dr. Goebbels, “why you should have the slightest difficulty in adjusting the trend of what you write to the interests of the State…What is the use therefore of editorial skepticism? It only makes people uneasy.” But, just to make sure, the new Nazi government enacted measures imposing the death penalty on those who published “treasonable articles.” Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, Nazi Party, introducing the National Press Law to journalists in 1933 as depicted in The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.

H 4702 General Bill, By Rep. Mike Pitts (R) Laurens

A BILL TO AMEND THE CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, BY ADDING CHAPTER 85 TO TITLE 40 TO ENACT THE “SOUTH CAROLINA RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM REGISTRY LAW” SO AS TO ESTABLISH REQUIREMENTS FOR PERSONS BEFORE WORKING AS A JOURNALIST FOR A MEDIA OUTLET AND FOR MEDIA OUTLETS BEFORE HIRING A JOURNALIST; TO REQUIRE THE ESTABLISHMENT AND OPERATION OF A RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM REGISTRY BY THE SOUTH CAROLINA SECRETARY OF STATE’S OFFICE; TO AUTHORIZE REGISTRY FEES; TO ESTABLISH FINES AND CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR VIOLATION OF THE CHAPTER; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

You’ve no doubt by now heard of Representative Mike Pitts’ proposal for a “Responsible Journalism Registry” to ensure that only journalists deemed competent may publish, and to penalize them criminally when they step out of line. Pitts told the Charleston Post and Courier that his bill is meant to stimulate discussion over how he sees Second Amendment rights being treated by the press, adding that the bill is modeled directly after South Carolina’s Concealed Weapons Permitting Registry. As Pitts said: “It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms,” Pitts said. “With this statement I’m talking primarily about printed press and TV. The TV stations, the six o’clock news and the printed press has no qualms demonizing gun owners and gun ownership.”

As one of South Carolina’s many unlicensed journalists, and as a citizen of a country in which there is a mass shooting – i.e., four or more people shot in one incident, every single day (see ShootingTracker.com), I was all set to give Pitts both barrels (if you’ll forgive the figure of speech). But as I dug in to research this article I discovered to my horror that, in part, I agreed with Pitts.

First, Pitts doesn’t really want the bill to pass. He says his proposal was intended as a “constitutional experiment” to highlight what he perceives as “hypocrisy and bias of the media when it comes to…the Bill of Rights.” Specifically, Pitts thinks the media loves the First Amendment but despises the Second. While I don’t necessarily agree (see below), the point that the Bill of Rights is not an a la carte menu you get to pick and choose from is a valid one.

In making his modest proposal, Pitts understands that he’s ripping a page from Goebbels’ 1933 playbook. But since he’s intentionally referencing that terrible time in history, let’s digress on that for a moment.

Nazi Germany was the one of the best examples of how far from humanity a people can stray. It’s a convenient time and place to reference when making comparisons even though, of course, not much can really compare. The real riddle of that time, though, is how did a majority of Germans come to accept it? How did they blow past every stop sign that should have halted them along the way?

There is a fascinating book by Sebastian Haffner called Defying Hitler. The manuscript for the book was discovered in an attic in 1999 by Haffner’s son. Haffner, a 25 year old German law student, wrote it secretly in 1939, to chronicle how ordinary Germans permitted themselves to be transformed into the Nazi Reich. Haffner chronicles both the creeping erosion of civil liberties and increasing willingness to accept violence by the German people, whom he also described as lacking the backbone to resist.

You should read that book. While you’re at it, check out the Boys in the Boat, which I quote at the beginning of this article. It’s the story of the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team, crewed by the sons of fisherman and loggers, who won the gold medal at Hitler’s Berlin Olympics. One thing I learned from Boys is that rowing shells lack keels. While keels keep a boat stable and right side up, they slow it down. The keel is the boat’s backbone.

So, where’s our keel? Where’s our backbone? I would submit it’s the Bill of Rights. So on point one — all of the amendments are important — Pitts is right. I may not love the Second Amendment. Pitts may or may not love the First. And the government sure doesn’t love the Fourth. But it’s a package deal. And if Pitts wants to stimulate a debate about that, I’m all for it.

But while he’s at it, he should stimulate a debate about gun violence. Guns, regrettably, are not like pens. You can’t ­‑ thank God – walk into an elementary school in Connecticut with a ballpoint and shoot 20 six and seven year olds. You can’t walk into a holiday party in San Bernardino and kill 14 people with a typewriter. We cannot accept that violence as simply the price we pay for that level of violence as we stand by numbly, watching the mass shooting of the day on the news. (You can see how that thing might color a reporter’s point of view, can’t you?)

I don’t have the answer on how to fix this. But I didn’t ask to be in the House of Representatives, either. So, Mr. Pitts, if you are going to discuss if you’re going to preserve liberty, don’t forget about life. Because half of keel will take a boat into strange waters, and half a backbone is no backbone at all.

<<Back to all articles