WASHINGTON – The quasi-governmental group that runs
the Senate Press Gallery has backpedaled from one of
its original two reasons for denying WorldNetDaily
press credentials, and is now blaming an “inadequate
Internet policy” for the misjudgment.
WND appealed the denial to the Standing Committee of Correspondents April 15, but has still received no formal word from the powerful group – which decides whom among the media gets to cover Congress freely. The committee answers only to the Senate Rules Committee, which rarely, if ever, reviews its vetting procedures.
But in a cryptic statement posted quietly on the
gallery website late last week, the panel stated: “The
committee finds that the Internet policy adopted in
1996 is inadequate to deal with a complex and evolving
The five members of the panel, all congressional
reporters, remain mum on the subject.
But gallery insiders say it’s an oblique reference to a
shaky standard by which the panel judges online
publications for membership. According to the 1996
rule, newssites must post “daily news with significant
original reporting content,” as distinct from links to
other news stories, such as ones produced by AP and
Reuters and widely and voluminously carried by
The panel failed to quantify “significant,” leaving
the yardstick practically useless.
Six months ago, the panel based its action against WND
in large part on the 1996 rule, arguing the popular
site, with more than 2.5 million readers, lacks
“significant original reporting content.”
(That same letter is conspicuously absent from the
website, which posts several other documents related to its
case against WND.)
Roberts struggled to quantify the “threshold” he held
WND to at the April 15 appeals hearing, during which
WND’s counsel demonstrated that WND has archived more
than 14,000 original news items and columns since its
founding – many of which have been picked up by
AP, Washington Post, USA Today and other accredited
gallery members, including all five of the news
organizations that employ the members of the standing
It’s not immediately clear if the panel plans to
recraft its Internet policy.
“They made injudicious conclusions about us, and now
they’re trying to cover their tracks,” said WND
founder and Editor Joseph Farah.
In the same memo disavowing its Internet policy, dated
June 18, 2002 – which looks to be a ruling on WND’s
appeal, but is not official (neither Farah nor WND
counsel Richard Ackerman has been notified by Roberts)
– the committee stopped short of reversing itself,
stating only that it’s “prepared to provisionally
recognize WND as an eligible newsgathering
organization on condition of continuing separation and
independence between WorldNetDaily and the Western
Journalism Center,” and “pending receipt of additional
information requested from the center.”
Roberts also complained in his Feb. 8 denial letter
about WND’s “cross-over ownership” with the nonprofit
Western Journalism Center, from which WND was spun off
in 1999. WND was incorporated that year in Delaware as
a for-profit company.
“The Western Journalism Center continues to own a
significant interest in WorldNetDaily,” Roberts, a
reporter for Bloomberg News, said in his letter.
The center and Farah have already provided documents
showing that its stake is less than 50 percent and
shrinking as WND continues to buy back shares. Farah
also provided an affidavit to the committee affirming
WND has no lobbying interests.
But now Roberts and the committee are after more
financial documents, in what Farah called “a
never-ending fishing expedition.”
In an Aug. 8 letter to the Western Journalism Center, Roberts demanded it
furnish to the committee “a breakdown of expenditures
listed (on its IRS 990 forms) under ‘Investigative
“Will you please provide a breakdown of spending of
the $284,697 listed for investigative reporting in
calendar year 2001 (you told us some of those funds
supported Kenneth Timmerman’s series on Florida
voting); and the $162,879 listed under “other
expenses” for investigative reporting in calendar year
2000,” Roberts wrote.
In the same June 18 memo, the committee said it specifically denied
WND Washington bureau chief Paul Sperry credentials,
alleging that he “provided false and misleading
information to the committee” during oral questioning
at the April 15 appeals hearing, which was not
conducted under oath, and centered on accrediting WND the organization, not any individual applicants.
Sperry has explained to the committee that he simply
mixed up dates in trying to recall when he used his
day pass and former hard pass (he had previously held
credentials and was approved by the same panel under a
different employer), and wasn’t trying to “mislead”
“The attack on Paul Sperry was a way for them to shift
away from their political witch hunt against
WorldNetDaily and the Western Journalism Center which
they had engaged in before,” said Ackerman, a public-interest lawyer for
the U.S. Justice Foundation.
Ackerman says the committee discriminated against WND
because it didn’t like what it perceived to be its
He points to a document the committee turned over
showing the research it did in evaluating WND’s
application. Most of the items refer to
“conservative,” “Clinton,” “Judicial Watch,” “Vincent
Foster,” or “Richard Mellon Scaife.”
“When we got that document in my office, I was
shocked,” he said.
He says it’s the smoking gun that proves the committee
had political motives in denying WND – and therefore
violated WND’s constitutional rights as a member of
the free press.
In other words, it wasn’t that the gatekeepers didn’t
think WND had enough original content on its site.
That was a smokescreen, Ackerman says.
The real issue to them is the content itself – they
don’t like it. And denying WND unfettered access to
cover Congress is a way to censor such content.
“If there’s any one thing that a government agency
cannot do under the First Amendment is engage in
content-based discrimination,” he said.
And the “witch hunt” continues.
“This latest request for Western Journalism Center
documents goes above and beyond the normal review
process,” Ackerman said, “because the press gallery is
turning itself into a liberal Big Brother to make sure
what they perceive as the conservative press doesn’t
get out of line.”