WASHINGTON – A 25-year federal bureaucrat who has the inside track on a $111,000 position running the Senate Press Gallery – a job that requires a minimum six years “news media experience” – counts as journalism experience a 1970s stint at the Tucson Citizen.
But veterans of the 40,000-circulation afternoon newspaper – including the publisher, who was a reporter back then – say they never heard of him.
A librarian at the Gannett paper, which publishes Monday through Saturday, could find no clippings file or byline card for Stephen J. “Joe” Keenan, who is deputy director of the press gallery and up for promotion to the open position of director.
It turns out Keenan, who has been investigating WorldNetDaily.com throughout its battle for press credentials, apparently worked in the circulation department of the Citizen as “chief spotter.”
“Its an old circulation term,” said Paul Allen, a veteran reporter and one-time assistant city editor at the paper. “The chief spotter was the guy who drove the trucks with the bundles of papers in the back, and dropped the bundles at this spot and that spot for the street vendors and home delivery folks.”
A vice president of circulation for the Citizen says the chief spotter, now a defunct position, also supervised truck drivers.
But he says several circulation-department veterans who worked in the 1970s do not remember working for, or with, Keenan.
The Citizen’s personnel department could not confirm Keenan’s employment.
Keenan refused repeated requests to provide details about his previous employment.
A gallery spokeswoman says there is no record of Keenan’s job history on file.
“We have nothing in our files as far as a biography or old resume,” said Wendy Oscarson of the gallery.
Keenan joined the press gallery in 1978. After the deputy director died in 1985, Keenan took his place.
“Apparently Mr. Keenan has no real-world journalism experience. His only apparent job in the news business is as a delivery person,” said WorldNetDaily founder and Editor Joseph Farah. “Yet he’s making decisions about the quality and credentials of men and women who have run daily newspapers, who have spent decades gathering and editing news.”
“It’s unbelievable,” added Farah, who was executive news editor of the erstwhile Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and editor in chief of the Sacramento Union.
Keenan has acted as liaison to the Standing Committee of Correspondents, the quasi-governmental group that judges applicants for congressional press credentials and is searching for a new director.
Robert E. Petersen, longtime gallery director, was reportedly ousted earlier this summer by the committee, chaired by William L. Roberts III, and the Senate sergeant-at-arms, both of whom supervise the director. Before that, Petersen let Keenan handle WND’s application, first filed Feb. 8, 2001, while he dealt with health issues.
The committee in January denied WND credentials. It based its decision in large part on research conducted by Keenan.
The list of research items used to evaluate WND are replete with references to stories about “conservatism,” “Larry Klayman,” “conspiracism,” “the New Right,” “conservative bent,” “culture war,” “Judicial Watch,” “Bill Clinton,” “Vince Foster,” “Richard Mellon Scaife” and other references to what the media elite commonly associate with former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s alleged “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
WND counsel Richard Ackerman says the documents are evidence that Keenan and the committee, made up of five Washington-based journalists, engaged in “content-based discrimination” in denying WND’s application, which he argues is a violation of the
popular newssite’s First Amendment rights as a member of the free press. WND is appealing the decision to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which has governing authority over the Standing Committee of Correspondents.
“Keenan was instrumental in feeding the committee anything prejudiced against us,” said WND Managing Editor David Kupelian.
Keenan also couldn’t get his dates straight regarding when the committee first formally met to consider WND’s application. He told WND in e-mails sent in June, and again in August, of last year that the committee still hadn’t met on WND – and probably wouldn’t meet until after Labor Day. (Keenan claims his computer automatically purged his copies of the e-mails.)
Yet in an April 15 appeal hearing, he stated that the panel met May 5. The date was quietly changed in the official transcripts to April 23.
Farah has complained that Keenan stonewalled the newssite for a full year while he and the committee continued their “fishing expedition.”
Gallery insiders say Keenan is a shoo-in for the promotion to press gallery director, which pays a salary range of $74,308 to $111,460 – plus federal benefits, including the gold-plated retirement plan members of Congress voted for themselves. With his 24 years in federal government, Keenan should qualify for the highest pay grade, they say.
But “it sounds like he doesn’t have the required journalism experience,” offered Tucson Citizen’s Allen. “Sounds like he’s trying to bluff his way through it.”
Besides six years of news media experience, the position also requires a bachelor’s degree in journalism, public relations or communications.
Keenan graduated with a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona in Tucson in December 1977, alumni records show.
The deadline for applications is Sept. 10.
“I haven’t applied yet,” Keenan snapped when asked about his qualifications.
“Probably,” he said, before referring further questions to the Standing Committee’s lawyer.
Here is the job description for Senate Press Gallery director as listed in the official notice:
“Work is performed with considerable independence under the general supervision of the Standing Committee of Correspondents. Work requires developing policies and procedures for the effective operation of the gallery to serve the Senate and the media.”
Examples of work include:
- “Directs gallery services and operations, and manages gallery budget.”
- “Advises the Standing Committee in the area of credentials.”
- “Plans, organizes, coordinates and implements media arrangements for quadrennial political conventions, and presidential inaugurations, presidential debates, State-of-the Union addresses and related joint sessions or special events.”
Among other minimum qualifications:
- “Ability to provide accurate responses to media inquiries.”
- “Ability to maintain records.”