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The decision by the Senate Press Gallery to deny congressional press accreditation to WorldNetDaily.com is “absolutely discriminatory” and a violation of WND’s First Amendment rights, according to a public-interest law firm that has come to the newssite’s aid.
Richard Ackerman, attorney for the non-profit public-interest United States Justice Foundation, which is joining in WND’s fight, said yesterday of the gallery’s action: “We think this is absolutely discriminatory, and we’re dismayed by their actions.”
As WND reported yesterday, the Senate Press Gallery — after one year of deliberating – turned down the influential Internet news organization’s request for permanent congressional press credentials. The pass allows access to congressional offices, hearings, press conferences and special sessions, and as such is an essential tool for Washington-based journalists. More than 300 daily publications are currently accredited, including — as WND reported – the state-owned propaganda arms of foreign totalitarian regimes, such as Egypt’s Al-Ahram and China’s Beijing Daily.
After yesterday’s news story, WorldNetDaily was flooded with thousands of e-mails from readers, indignant that the media company had been denied accreditation.
But WND wasn’t the only one being deluged with e-mail. The accompanying column by WorldNetDaily Editor and CEO Joseph Farah invited readers to e-mail gallery Deputy Director Joe Keenan.
As a result, yesterday Keenan received more than 2,000 e-mails in support of WorldNetDaily.
WND knows this because, late yesterday, William Roberts, current chairman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents (and chairman of Bloomberg News), phoned Farah to discuss the controversy.
After informing Farah that Keenan had received in excess of 2,000 e-mails protesting the committee’s decision, Roberts said, “I request – no, I demand – that you remove Joe Keenan’s e-mail address from your site.”
Roberts screamed at Farah in an obscenity-laced diatribe in which he explained that there is an appeal process for the committee’s decision.
When Farah explained that WorldNetDaily has been working with Keenan as the only point of contact for more than a full year, Roberts said the committee only recently decided to deny the newssite permanent credentials. The site has been under review for a year and was found wanting for lack of original content, said Roberts.
WorldNetDaily currently employs 13 full-time editorial staffers and many part-timers, and has thousands of original news stories and columns archived on-site, including many major national scoops.
Farah declined Roberts’ demand to remove Keenan’s e-mail link.
Roberts also claimed Paul Sperry, WND’s Washington bureau chief, has not taken advantage of the daily press passes offered to him over the past year. (Keenan had offered, while WND’s application was under consideration, to supply Sperry with a day pass for which he would have to come and apply each time.)
“Do you want me to tell your readers that?” he asked.
“You can tell our readers anything you want,” said Farah. “I don’t believe you will have much credibility with them, but that’s your choice. Unlike you, I don’t try to shut off debate. I encourage it.”
Sperry, responding to Roberts’ implication that he hadn’t been covering Congress, said: “Actually, I did take Keenan up once on his offer of fettered access and got a day pass from a woman in the gallery to research Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s financial disclosure statement in the Legislative Resource Center in the Cannon Building, Room 106.”
Before that, Sperry noted, in Capitol Hill trips he made last year — like one he made to the Hart Senate Office Building, Room 232, to research Sen. Mitch McConnell’s financial disclosures for a series on Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, or the ones to hearings in the Rayburn Building on “Pardongate” and other matters over the last year – he used his expired pass from Investors Business Daily. Before coming to WND, Sperry was Washington bureau chief for IBD.
To get into House Government Reform Committee hearings last year, added Sperry, Press Secretary Mark Corallo “had to wave me in at a high-security, Pardongate hearing because I didn’t have my press pass to show a guard at the door.”
‘First Amendment means nothing to these people’
WorldNetDaily filed its application and paid the requisite fees with the gallery over a year ago, on Feb. 8, 2001.
Between that time and the standing committee’s recent decision, Keenan questioned WND on a wide-ranging and ever-changing series of objections – from concern that WND is not a spin-off of a pre-existing offline news organization, to the notion that it is a non-profit outfit (it is not), to concerns over its perceived relationship with the legal foundation Judicial Watch (there is no relationship), to questions about the number of reporters. The committee finally turned thumbs down at its Jan. 29 meeting.
As Farah stated in yesterday’s in-depth WND report on the Senate Press Gallery controversy: “I am 100 percent convinced, after a year of playing footsie with the Senate Press Gallery, that WorldNetDaily has been systematically discriminated against by this group because it doesn’t like our reporting style – which is aggressive, fiercely independent and focuses on investigative digging into government fraud, waste, corruption and abuse.”
Farah’s view, as well as that of the U.S. Justice Foundation which is currently reviewing legal options with WND, is echoed by Pat Clawson, a former member of the board of the press gallery’s Standing Committee for Periodicals (which deals with accrediting magazines, rather than daily news publications).
As a former gallery insider, Clawson told WorldNetDaily yesterday:
“There is an incredible amount of snobbishness on these boards. … Traditionally, it’s a group of establishment insiders who turn up their noses at alternative journalism. It’s like an old English gentlemen’s club that doesn’t like welcoming new members into the brotherhood.”
Added Clawson, who is now with Radio America: “The First Amendment means nothing to these people. The taxpayers pay for this circus, public employees work in these galleries, and it is one of the most incestuous, pork-barrel operations you have ever seen — and nobody in the press will take it on.”
With the standing committee’s recent decision, that appears to be changing.
The current members of the Standing Committee of Correspondents are:
Bill Roberts, Bloomberg News, Chairman
Donna Smith, Reuters, Secretary
Jim Kuhnenn, Knight Ridder
Scott Shepard, Cox Newspapers
Jack Torry, Columbus Dispatch
Read the in-depth report, “WND denied congressional pass.