WASHINGTON – After 19 months, two appeals, a massive letter-writing campaign by loyal readers, calls from members of Congress and the threat of a lawsuit, WorldNetDaily.com finally got its congressional press credentials.
In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Senate Press Gallery reversed its Jan. 29
Decision to deny the popular newssite a permanent press pass.
Such reversals have been rare in the Standing Committee’s 123-year history.
And WND’s admittance to the Senate Press Gallery marks a first for an independently owned Internet newspaper.
The fast-growing newssite, with more than 2.5 million readers, will now have the same unfettered access to the Capitol, including the Senate and House chambers and office buildings, afforded the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press and other venerable members of the Old Media.
The battle for access to Congress was critical in light of heightened security in Washington. Reporters need photo-ID hard passes to get into such federal buildings.
After the Standing Committee adjourned its meeting, committee lawyer, N. Frank Wiggins, notified WND’s counsel Richard D. Ackerman of the U.S. Justice Foundation that the quasi-governmental panel of journalists had agreed to immediately and unconditionally grant permanent press credentials to WND’s Washington bureau chief and WND founder and Editor Joseph Farah, who now works in Washington.
“I’m grateful this process is over so we can focus more attention on exposing fraud, waste, abuse and corruption in government – now with equal access to the corridors of power,” Farah said.
On Aug. 30, Ackerman had advised Wiggins that the committee had 10 days to accredit WND or face a lawsuit alleging intentional violations of the First Amendment, intentional violations of the Ninth Amendment, business disparagement, defamation,
intentional interference with economic advantage, anti-trust violations, violations of sunshine laws, invasion of privacy, and other unlawful conduct.
He also advised that the discrimination suit would name individual members of the committee and possibly their employers, and would seek punitive damages. Ackerman assembled a team of lawyers and paralegals in Washington in preparation for litigating the case, which would have argued and presented documentary and other evidence that the committee engaged in content-based discrimination.
Then, Wiggins last week notified Ackerman that the committee had scheduled a meeting on WND’s appeal for Sept. 10. Ackerman held off on filing the suit.
“I am pleased that the First Amendment has been given the high reverence it deserves,” Ackerman said in a Sept. 10 letter to Wiggins. “My clients will now be able to fully exercise their First Amendment right to gather and report news in and from the Capitol.”
Farah says he vowed in a conversation earlier this year with Standing Committee Chairman William L. Roberts III of Bloomberg News that the committee’s ruling to deny WND credentials, which he called politically motivated, “would not stand.”
He says WND’s case should pave the way for other New Media that want to freely cover Congress.
“I will never forget this two-year ordeal and, even though we received little help from our colleagues, I will do everything in our power to ensure that other journalists are not victimized in this way again,” Farah said.
Committee member James Kuhnhenn of Knight Ridder, who cast one of the dissenting votes, told the Washington Times he objected to a series of unflattering stories about the committee written by WND’s Washington bureau chief.
Calling it “extortion journalism,” he complained it “has no place in our profession.”
The stories – which exposed, among other things, the secretive procedures of the Standing Committee, the uneven standards applied to past applicants who were approved and the limited journalism background of a key gallery official up for promotion – incited WND readers to protest the committee’s actions. Many wrote members of Congress, who, in turn, called the committee.
For example, an aide to Sen. George Allen, R-Va., told a concerned constituent Wednesday that a gallery official, responding to an earlier query about WND’s case, had let the senator’s office know that the committee had decided to reverse itself and accredit
Ackerman had early last month filed a 31-page appeal brief with Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which has governing authority over the Standing Committee.
But the Connecticut Democrat, former co-chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the scandal-ridden 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign, failed to grant a hearing to WND.
Other WND readers threatened to boycott the news services of some of the media companies that employ members of the Standing Committee.
The other nay vote was cast by committee member Jack
Torry of the Columbus Dispatch, who got in some hot
water last month with Ohio readers of both the
Dispatch and WND when he claimed in e-mails that WND
was denied credentials because it didn’t “publish its
Roberts, committee secretary Donna Smith of Reuters,
and Scott Shepard of Cox Newspapers all voted to
reverse their earlier denial and accredit WND,
according to Wiggins.