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Defining a Journalist

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—According to Reporters Without Boarders, there have been 59 Journalists killed, 12 media assistants killed, 21 “Netizens” and citizen journalists killed and 176 journalists imprisoned so far this year. Reporters Without Boarders notes that, “Journalists killed” includes only cases in which the organizations clearly established that “the victim was killed because of his/her activities as a journalist. It does not include cases in which the motives were not related to the victim’s work or in which a link has not yet been confirmed.”

Here in Alabama, we have had no journalists killed, though we have had one blogger imprisoned and this publication threatened.

Journalism is one job of the very few jobs where a person can lose their life for just stating facts. Here in Alabama, journalists lives are not threatened only their livelihood.

Presumptive, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh has said that he wants his staff to define who is a journalist. In a report by Tim Lockette for the Anniston Star, Marsh is quoted as saying, “All I’ve asked for is some sort of criteria, so that if someone is not a journalist, they won’t be in the press room.”

In the same article he told the Star that, “He never considered the Britts to be real journalists.”

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(See article here.)

So, by this logic, Marsh has predetermined that the Britts should not be in the press room.

However, speaking with Mary Sells of the Decatur Daily, Marsh said, “I think Bill Britt is taking it personally, like it’s against him, it’s not.”

(See article here.)

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Marsh’s statements would seem to contradict each other. He says he wants a criteria “that if someone is not a journalist, they won’t be in the press room.” Then he states that he has “never considered the Britts to be real journalists.” Then he tells Mary Sells, it is not about “Bill Britt.”

Marsh appears to use pretzel-logic; bending the facts so as not to be seen targeting a particular group of journalists. Or perhaps, Marsh reveres the truth to such great magnitude that he uses it with the utmost economy.

Wex Legal Dictionary / Encyclopedia by the Legal Information Institute of the Cornell University, says, the Free Press Clause in the First Amendment “protects the right of individuals to express themselves through publication and dissemination of information, ideas and opinions without interference, constraint or prosecution by the government.”

By this definition, it is not the media conglomerate or those who own a printing press, or any media outlet, but the “individual,” who is protected under the Free Press Clause.

Like Freedom of Speech, the Founding Fathers were thinking about the rights of citizens, not corporations.

In 1972, the Supreme Court reaffirmed this notion in, Branzburg v. Hayes, stating that Freedom of the Press was “a fundamental personal right” that is not confined to newspapers and periodicals.

The Supreme Court has held that the “lone pamphleteer,” is at the very heart of the Free Press Clause.

According to the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, the United States is ranked 46, behind such countries as the Czech Republic, Namibia, Ghana, El Salvador and other places not often seen as bastions of freedom. In fact, the US is just above Haiti on the Freedom Index.

And Alabama is far down the list of states that allow easy access to public records.

Censorship America offers a historical prospective on freedom to the press. “A celebrated legal case in 1734-1735 involved John Peter Zenger, a New York newspaper printer. He printed a newspaper that publicly bashed the ruler at this time, and he was taken to jail. He was taken to court and charged with seditious libel for assailing the corrupt royal governor of New York. His lawyer Andrew Hamilton defended him well, and was made famous for his speech “truth cannot be libel.” This court case paved the way for Freedom of the Press in the United States to be adopted in the Constitution.”

(See “History of Censorship” here.)

According to the Library of Congress, the Alien and Sedition Act was “Signed into law by President John Adams in 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four laws passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress as America prepared for war with France. These acts increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, authorized the president to imprison or deport aliens considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” and restricted speech critical of the government. These laws were designed to silence and weaken the Democratic-Republican Party. Negative reaction to the Alien and Sedition Acts helped contribute to the Democratic-Republican victory in the 1800 elections. Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802, while the other acts were allowed to expire.”

As Censor America points out a major aspect of the law was to set out the punishments of imprisonment for writing or publishing “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the President or Congress.

It would appear that Marsh who has sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, doesn’t agree with the Framers of the Constitution, and much prefers the egregious Alien and Sedition Acts.

The Anniston Star and the Montgomery Advertiser have taken exception to Marsh’s desire to limit press access to the Senate.

The Star published an editorial titled “You might be a journalist”…

(See article here.)

…while the Advertiser said, “Don’t limit definition of journalists.”

(See article here.)

Both editorials are welcome and show the kind of intellectual honesty that challenges the “Marsh Doctrine.”

The editorial board of al.com and others are yet to weigh-in on the subject, challenging the notion that they are the big dogs of journalism. But, there is still time for them to assert their considerable editorial power.

As of yet, no one has been greatly harmed and no one is likely to be killed by Marsh’s actions, but, his is the path of every would-be tyrant. It is utterly amazing to think that he will lead the Senate of Alabama for the next four years, when there are actually freedom-loving leaders who are much more suited for the job.

But, just so no one, not even a State Senator can miss the point that a journalist, according to the strict interpretation of the constitution, is an individual who expresses himself through publication and dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.

Of course, there is that pesky part about interference, constraint or prosecution from the government, which Marsh seems ready to supply.

Still, every year, journalists put their lives in mortal danger to tell the truth about corruption. Not for money or glory, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Wish the same could be said of the man who would lead our State’s Senate.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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National

USDA is seeking rural energy grant applications

The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand on Wednesday invited applications for loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, and to make energy efficiency improvements, conduct energy audits and provide development assistance.

The funding is being provided through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized under the 2018 Farm Bill. This notice seeks applications for Fiscal Year 2021 funding.

The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.

REAP helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption by purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements in their operations.

Eligible systems may derive energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, ocean, hydrogen, geothermal or renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters).

USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to help improve life in rural America.

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Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments.

Key strategies include achieving e-Connectivity for rural America, developing the rural economy, harnessing technological innovation, supporting a rural workforce and improving quality of life. For additional information, see the notice in the Federal Register.

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National

Trump says that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin within two weeks

Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

President Donald Trump said Thursday that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin as early as next week.

“The whole world is suffering, and we are rounding the curve,” Trump said. “And the vaccines are being delivered next week or the week after.”

Trump made the announcement during a special Thanksgiving holiday message to U.S. troops overseas via teleconference. Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients. He also argued that his election opponent, President-elect Joe Biden, should not be given credit for the vaccines, which were developed during the Trump administration.

Trump referred to the vaccines, which were developed and tested in less than ten months as a “medical miracle.”

Regulators at the FDA will review Pfizer’s request for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine developed with BioNTech during a meeting on Dec. 10. The director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research says a decision is expected within weeks, possibly days after that key meeting.

The latest trial data for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine showed that it was 90 percent effective.

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The CDC plans to vote next week on where the distribution of approved vaccines will begin and who will be allowed to get the first vaccines when they become available.

Dr. Celene Gounder, a member of Biden’s COVID Advisory Board, warned against rushing a vaccine to market.

“The single biggest risk of rushing an approval would be Americans’ distrust the vaccine,” Grounder said. “It’s essential people feel confident this is a safe and effective vaccine.”

Moderna said that its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

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AstraZeneca says its preliminary results showed its vaccine ranged from 62 percent to 90 percent effective depending on the dosage amount given to participants. AstraZeneca is having to launch a second round of global trials to clear up the discrepancies.

Many Americans appear to have ignored CDC warnings to scale back Thanksgiving holiday plans. More than six million Americans flew over the holiday week, raising fears by public health officials that the surge in coronavirus cases we are experiencing now will be followed by a bigger surge in the next three weeks.

As of press time, there have been 62 million diagnosed cases of coronavirus cases in the world, including nearly 13.5 million in the United States, but many cases are mild and go undiagnosed.

A CDC researcher estimates that the real number of infections in the U.S. has topped 53 million since February. More than 1.4 million people have died around the world since the virus first appeared in China late last year. The death toll includes 271,029 Americans and 3,572 Alabamians.

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News

The Iron Bowl is today

Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Brandon Moseley

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The 2019 Iron Bowl (VIA ALABAMA FOOTBALL/UNIV. OF ALABAMA ATHLETICS)

The Auburn University college football team will play the University of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday with the game kicking off at 2:30 p.m. Attendance is strictly limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The game will be televised on CBS stations.

Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will coach the Crimson Tide in Saban’s absence. He has a 46-35 record as a head coach at USC and Washington.

Auburn will be coached by Gus Malzahn, who has a 67-33 record as a head coach. He is the fifth winningest coach in Auburn history, trailing only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.

Alabama has a 7-0 record and is currently the No. 1 team in the country in the college football rankings. Auburn is 5-2 but with a win could still win the SEC West with wins in its remaining two games, and if Alabama were to lose another game down the stretch. Alabama is just one game ahead of Texas A&M for first place in the SEC West, but the Tide has the tiebreaker by virtue of having defeated the Aggies in head-to-head competition.

In addition to team honors, there is a lot riding for individual players in today’s game. Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 2,426 yards and 18 touchdowns in Alabama’s first seven games. Jones’s strong performance has made him a Heisman contender and has earned him consideration as a possible first-round or high second-round draft pick by the NFL if he were to leave Alabama early.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has thrown for 1,627 yards and ten touchdowns over seven games.

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Alabama and Auburn played their first football game against each other in Lakeview Park in Birmingham on Feb. 22, 1893. The game is called the Iron Bowl because historically the game was played on a neutral site: Birmingham’s historic Legion Field. Birmingham at the time was best known for the iron that was mined there and then made into steel and other metal products.

The game is now played as a home and home series, but the Iron Bowl name has stuck with the rivalry.

Alabama leads the series with 46 wins to Auburn’s 37. There has been one tie. Auburn defeated Alabama 48 to 45 in last year’s high scoring contest.

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Health

Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus

Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine. 

Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said. 

“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response. 

The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval. 

“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations,  we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said. 

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines. 

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In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain. 

“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily

While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill. 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.

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“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.

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