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Senate press police
withhold public info
Posted By Paul Sperry On 08/14/2002 @ 7:30 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled
WASHINGTON – The Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Senate Press Gallery will not release copies of the formal minutes of its private discussions on WorldNetDaily’s application for credentials, even though the minutes were posted on a gallery bulletin board, WND has learned.
The powerful quasi-governmental panel that picks which media organizations can freely cover Congress has denied WND membership in the gallery. The popular newssite appealed the decision April 15.
Before the hearing, WND counsel Richard D. Ackerman asked for all meeting documents the committee kept. But committee lawyer N. Frank Wiggins refused to produce them.
“I was told that we couldn’t have anything, including any notes of meetings on WND, because they weren’t bound by FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests, [and] that they weren’t going to produce squat,” said Ackerman, a public-interest lawyer with the U.S. Justice Foundation.
Indeed, Wiggins cited FOIA in a March 13 letter formally turning down Ackerman’s request.
On page two, he wrote: “Please be advised that neither formal judicial discovery nor the Freedom of Information Act applies to the Standing Committee,” which is composed of five journalists governed by the Senate Rules Committee.
But last week WND learned that all minutes of the panel’s meetings, including the ones pertaining to WND over the past 18 months, have been posted on a press gallery bulletin board at some time or another, usually right after the committee “approves” each set.
Gallery staffer Jim Saris, a federal employee, keeps the minutes, which are summaries rather than transcripts of the proceedings. After they are posted, the minutes are stored in a hard binder in the gallery. Saris says he is transferring the documents to CD-ROM.
Though the press gallery is open to members only, non-members often visit to pick up temporary “day passes” or tickets to political events, such as the party conventions and presidential inauguration. There is other non-member traffic there, as well.
Therefore, any posted minutes can be viewed by the public, not just gallery members.
Asked about it last week, acting gallery director Stephen J. “Joe” Keenan conceded that the posted minutes are public information. He also agreed to ask Standing Committee chairman William L. Roberts III to release copies of the minutes to WND.
But Roberts, a reporter for Bloomberg News, decided to allow only excerpts of the minutes to be released, not the formal minutes. He ordered a gallery staffer to retype the entries pertaining to WND going back to April 23, 2001, and release only that document which totals all of one page. (Editor’s note: Link requires Adobe Acrobat).
According to the excerpts of the excerpts, the committee first discussed WND’s application April 23, 2001 (It was submitted Feb. 8, 2001.), but members “delayed action.” The last excerpts are from an April 8, 2002, meeting.
Where are those excerpts? The gallery maintains the minutes have yet to be approved by Roberts.
Ackerman earlier today asked Wiggins in a letter to not only turn over copies of all formal minutes relating to WND and its case, but all formal minutes of all meetings and committee discussions dating back to April 1, 1999.
The request covers any minutes of meetings the Standing Committee held in the House Press Gallery, as well. Another staffer, employed by the House, keeps those minutes.
“We will no longer tolerate their pattern of lies and deceit,” he said.
Curiously, the excerpts from the minutes of the committee’s May 21, 2001, meeting suggest that WND was notified that its application would be suspended for six months while the committee waited for additional information.
“The committee agreed to give Mr. Sperry one-day temporary credentials on an as-needed basis for up to six months pending receipt of further information concerning the relationship between WorldNetDaily and the Western Journalism Center,” from which WND was spun off as a for-profit company in 1999, the excerpt says.
But WND was not notified of such an arrangement, asserts WND founder and Editor Joseph Farah.
“The six-month thing was never stated by anyone,” Farah said.
In fact, in both June and August of last year, Keenan emailed WND that the committee was due to meet on WND imminently, suggesting they had not yet formally considered its application.
Also, during the April 15 hearing, Keenan claimed the committee first met on WND’s application May 5, 2001.
The committee didn’t decide on WND’s application until Jan. 29 – a full year after the newssite, with more than 2.5 million readers, applied.
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