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The battle raging between the Senate Press Gallery and WorldNetDaily over the gallery’s recent denial of permanent press credentials to the newssite is coming to a head.
An appeal hearing before the Standing Committee of Correspondents – the panel of five journalists that rule on applications for credentials, and that turned down WND – has been scheduled for April 15.
Represented by the United States Justice Foundation, WND will make the case that the Standing Committee has discriminated against the leading independent Internet news organization and engaged in blatant violations of the First Amendment. U.S.J.F. attorney Richard Ackerman, who will attend the hearing in Washington, describes the denial of WorldNetDaily’s application as “the most unconstitutional thing I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
“WorldNetDaily.com might be the Internet’s leading independent English-language newssite,” the Washington Times reported yesterday, “but that’s not helping its founder, editor and CEO, Joseph Farah – former editor in chief of the Sacramento Union – obtain Capitol Hill press credentials.”
Indeed, last month WorldNetDaily reported that the Senate Press Gallery, after sitting on WND’s application and fees for an entire year, declined the news organization’s request for permanent congressional press credentials – an essential tool for Washington, D.C.-based journalists. The pass allows reporters unfettered access not only to the U.S. Capitol, but to all of the House and Senate office buildings, including attendance at hearings, press conferences and the like.
In a Feb. 8, 2002, letter to WorldNetDaily, Bloomberg News Chairman William Roberts, current chair of the Standing Committee, cited two reasons for the denial: One, that WND originated from a non-profit organization, the Western Journalism Center, which today owns a minority of stock in WorldNetDaily – implying that WND is somehow engaged in lobbying or promotion work on behalf of “tax-free special interest or issue advocacy groups.” And two, that WND does not have enough original content to qualify.
However, among the 300-plus daily news organizations currently accredited are non-profit organizations (Associated Press), church-sponsored news organizations (such as the Christian Science Monitor), and numerous one-man operations with far less original content than WorldNetDaily, which employs 13 full-time editorial people. In fact, at least one organization, PlanetGov.com, has no reporters at all – but posts only news links from other media.
The battle heats up
While Farah has passionately publicized the developing David-and-Goliath media battle in his columns – most recently his “Open letter to the news police” – the U.S. Justice Foundation is preparing for a major battle on the legal front.
In a Feb. 28 letter to Roberts and the Standing Committee, Ackerman launched more than a dozen FOIA requests, a discovery tactic designed to bring to light the actual criteria by which the Standing Committee denied WND – and by which it approved the applications of various other news organizations which, by any measure, suffer from the same (or greater) “deficiencies” as those that allegedly disqualified WND from approval.
Among the items demanded of the Standing Committee by the U.S. Justice Foundation are:
“Any and all notes, internal correspondence, third-party correspondence, memoranda, investigative reports, documents, writings, or other written evidence used by the Standing Committee as a basis for denying permanent press credentials to the applicant herein;
“Any and all standing orders, protocols, standards, guidelines, regulations, internal memoranda, rules, or other written or recorded instructions used by the Standing Committee for/in determining a grant or denial of press credentials to any applicant in the years 2001-2002.”
In like fashion, the letter goes on to request all documentation relied on by the Standing Committee that led to the approval of the applications of: the Christian Science Monitor; the Washington Times; the Religion News Service; the Bovard News Service; the Kipling News Service; the McClendon News Service; Planetgov.com; the Boston University News Service; the Medill News Service (part of Northwestern University); Al-Ahram; the Vietnam News Agency; and communist China’s official news outlet, Xinhua.
The letter also requests a great deal of other information designed to cast maximum sunlight on the Standing Committee’s otherwise private deliberations.
“We should make it clear,” noted Farah, “that, with the exception of the totalitarian press like Al-Ahram and Xinhua, we have absolutely no problem with any of these church-supported news organizations, student news organizations, one-reporter groups and even no-reporter groups being accredited. Quite the contrary – unlike the Standing Committee, we believe in the First Amendment. Our purpose in comparing WorldNetDaily with these other organizations is to prove the obvious discrimination in which the gallery has engaged in denying our application.”
Ackerman echoed Farah’s assessment: “We are confident that the documents requested by our client will demonstrate that there was manifest unfairness in this case.” He also noted what he sees as the motive behind the decision to turn down the Internet’s No. 1 independent news organization.
“The evidence will show that this unfairness was occasioned by our client’s willingness to truthfully and accurately report what goes on in Washington D.C. and elsewhere,” said Ackerman. “The actions of the Committee strike at the very heart of the First Amendment.”
Editor’s note: WorldNetDaily has a Legal Defense Fund, set up originally to help support the newssite in its litigation with Al Gore crony Clark Jones in Tennessee and other legal challenges we face from time to time. Readers who wish to donate to help in these matters may do so in two ways:
- Make a tax-deductible contribution to the U.S. Justice Foundation, the public-interest legal group that is handling WND’s case against the Senate Press Gallery in Washington. This same group is aiding in WND’s defamation case in Tennessee.
- If tax-deductibility is not an issue, readers may donate directly to WND’s Legal Defense Fund.