Once again, Jay Rosen has a thought provoking essay about modern journalism ("When Im Reporting, I am a Citizen of the World."). The quote in the title of the essay is from Bob Franken, a national correspondent for CNN and an embedded journalist during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
It was during his time in Iraq that he uttered the quote. [Correction: The quote was in reply to a question.]
In his essay, Jay is mildly fascinated by this quote as an expression of "newsroom religion." And if this is "newsroom religion," he asks of the Big Journalism Deans: "if schools like yours are supposed to spread the gospel, how do they know they have the religion right?"
I'm mildly fascinated by that quote too.
Why the, "When I am reporting ..." qualification? Citizenship is a series of duties and rights. Citizenship is not something you turn on and off like a light switch. It isn't a coat you take off when it is too warm and put on when it grows cold. What an odd notion of citizenship Franken must have.
What the heck does "citizen of the world" mean? It's a nice phrase, sounds rather high-minded. But what does it really mean?
Citizenship means being a member of a sovereign political community. I hate to break it to Franken, but we have no world-wide sovereign political community.
Citizenship implies duties as well as rights. And though Franken may feel a self-imposed duty to "the world," there is certainly no legal obligation, nor is it clear what such a duty would entail. As for rights, much of the world couldn't care less for Franken's claimed supra-national citizenship.
Franken is claiming to be a citizen of the world, a citizen of everywhere.
Instead, he is a citizen of nowhere.
Of course, if you feel you have a duty to the world, we might call that humanitarianism. Franken might have said, "when I report, I am a humanitarian." But he didn't. And the reason is that calling oneself a humanitarian doesn't quite say what Franken wants to say.
Rejecting Citizenship in the United States
When Franken claims to be a citizen of the world, he is not simply taking on the mantle of humanitarian, he is implicitly rejecting his citizenship in the United States.
In so doing he rejects the US Constitution, and the sovereign political community formed by it. He is claiming to no longer share a common civic identity with other American citizens. He is setting himself outside the polity, a sort of self-imposed exile, if you will. Such a person has no more duty and responsibility towards the US Constitution and the people organized under it than any non-citizen.
It is very odd for a member of a trade that so loudly proclaims the benefits of the First Amendment to reject allegiance to it when engaged in that trade.
Here in the United States, as a practical matter, rejecting citizenship isn't such a big deal. While mere inhabitants can't vote, serve on juries or take certain political offices, they retain all the other rights granted by our Constitution. Overseas, however, it would be another story. (Of course, this shows the vacuity of the statement. If Franken got into trouble "when reporting" overseas, the first thing he would be screaming for would be the US Embassy.)
As noted, a very important part of citizenship is a responsibility for and duty towards the polity. A citizen of the United States has a duty and a responsibility to criticize and correct her government when it is wrong. A citizen of nowhere has no such responsibility. A citizen of the United States has a duty to his other citizens, to protect and defend their rights. A citizen of nowhere has no such duty. A citizen of the United States has an obligation of loyalty. A citizen of nowhere is not so obligated.
Franken would likely object to this characterization:
"What I said and what I meant is you can be a patriot and a journalist. My point was and is that we exhibit our patriotism by being journalists that is, skeptics
In other words, as a reporter, he would say that he is
exercising his civic responsibilities; he is not
rejecting his American citizenship, he is embracing it.
Why then call himself a "citizen of the world"? Such a position is logically incoherent.
Perhaps, because if he didn't, some viewers might think he embraced and believed in our Constitution and the democratic values it expresses; that he is biased towards democracy and liberal rights like freedom of expression. Some viewers might be offended by that. Some viewers might have the odd notion that citizenship means support for government policy. Wouldn't want to confuse them with the fact that republican citizenship implies no such thing.
Wouldn't it better and more honest to say, "When I'm reporting, I am fulfilling my duties as a citizen of the United States"?