WASHINGTON — The Senate Press Gallery has decided to review longstanding rules used to vet applicants for press credentials after WorldNetDaily.com successfully challenged the fairness of its selection process last year.
The gallery’s formal rules have not been overhauled in more than 50 years.
The outgoing chairman of the committee that runs the daily galleries in Congress told the newspaper Roll Call that he has drafted new accreditation guidelines that address shortcomings highlighted by the landmark WND case. The new panel, elected last month, will take up the proposal.
“I think the obvious trigger was the litigation of the WorldNetDaily application, which forced the committee to take a look at the rules,” said Bloomberg News congressional correspondent William L. Roberts III, the outgoing chairman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which gets its authority from Congress.
WND, the nation’s largest Internet-based newspaper, won credentials after a bitter 19-month battle with the committee. The panel denied the newssite admission, then reversed itself after WND threatened to sue for discrimination.
WND’s legal team charged that the Standing Committee of Correspondents had violated the newssite’s First Amendment rights by unfairly excluding it from covering Congress.
Last August, the committee admitted its old rules were “inadequate” to cover Internet-based publications.
It had denied WND credentials based on an informal rule requiring eligible newssites to post “daily news with significant original reporting content,” as distinct from links to other news stories, such as ones produced by the Associated Press and Reuters and widely carried by traditional newspapers. The panel failed to quantify “significant,” leaving the yardstick practically useless.
A document used internally by the committee to investigate WND later revealed that it was more concerned with the political nature of WND’s content than its quantity. WND counsel Richard Ackerman of the U.S. Justice Foundation, who uncovered the document,
charged the panel was engaging in “viewpoint-based discrimination.”
The panel overturned its ruling against WND after Ackerman threatened legal action.
According to Roll Call, congressional lawyers warned the committee during the battle that its unwritten and arbitrary rules could cause it legal difficulties if WND challenged its denial in court.
No specifics of the outgoing panel’s proposed Internet rules have been revealed.
However, it reportedly also has proposed changes in credentialing foreign government-owned publications.
WND had noted in articles that the committee had admitted into the gallery several publications controlled by foreign governments, including Al-Ahram of Egypt and Xinhua News Agency of communist China.
Donna Smith of Reuters, secretary, and Jim Kuhnhenn of Knight Ridder, are also leaving the committee. Kuhnhenn voted against reversing the decision to deny admission to WND. He complained about negative stories WND wrote about the committee during the process. He reportedly helped Roberts write the proposed rules changes.
Replacing them will be three reporters elected to the committee last month: Jesse Holland of the Associated Press, Jim Drinkard of USA Today and Mary Agnes Carey of Congressional Quarterly. Remaining on the panel are Scott Shepard of Cox Newspapers and Jack Torry of The Columbus Dispatch.