The Obama administration, already criticized for a lack of transparency and evenhandedness with the press, today reached a new milestone when, with a terse accusation of lack of “professional courtesy and respect,” the U.S. United Nations mission refused without explanation a request for WND’s veteran U.N. reporter to attend a government event.
The event: A meeting with U.N. correspondents marking the end of the month-long tenure of U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice as chief of the Security Council. The WND reporter: Stewart Stogel, a 25-year U.N. correspondent who has also worked for ABC News, NBC News and been featured in many other news outlets including Time and Newsweek.
“Would appreciate the opportunity to attend Rice’s press reception as her Security Council presidency ends for April,” he wrote to Kornblau.
“When you start treating our Mission with professional courtesy and respect, we will be happy to reciprocate,” was Kornblau’s entire response.
Stogel asked for a further explanation but received none.
A surprised Stogel – one of the most senior U.N. correspondents, who values his long and cordial working relationships with everyone from John Bolton to Ban Ki-moon – told his WND editors he’s never experienced this kind of treatment from any administration except Obama’s.
Stogel, who also currently files stories for the Miami Herald and London Daily Mail, was warned earlier by U.S. officials that he might not be allowed to represent WND in his U.N. reporting, which is why he submitted his request in writing to attend the Rice meeting. He then asked Kornblau for an explanation after receiving his denial.
“I again ask you for particulars,” he wrote to Kornblau. “Mention stories you had a problem with. As I have said before … show me a wrong story and it can be corrected … no problem.”
The response from the mission to Stogel was silence.
Stogel followed up again today, emailing Kornblau: “All I asked for was equal treatment, no more, no less,” he said. “Your incredible and outrageous reply was to ban a senior United Nations resident correspondent, in the top ten in seniority, with a terse note excluding me from attending a press gathering with the president of the Security Council.”
Stogel added, incredulously:
“This has never happened in more 25 years at U.N. headquarters.
“You then allege professional misconduct. I asked you to provide specifics, credible specifics that could be addressed and resolved in a timely manner. You then went silent.
“You can’t provide credible specifics because there are none. I have personally dealt with nine U.S. ambassadors and never ever had my professional integrity questioned, until now. I will ask one final time. Provide specifics and they will be addressed.
“If not, I will seek an official apology from the Secretary of State directly and will use my congressional representatives to get it. I take very seriously unwarranted personal attacks from the United States Department of State.”
In response to all this, Kornblau told WND: “The reception traditionally involves the working members of the U.N. press corps, Those who show up each day at the U.N. press stakeout and cover the U.N. on a daily basis. Your reporter is not among those.”
He also claimed the event “is not a press event,” adding, “This is a by-invitation diplomatic reception to which some reporters are invited as a courtesy.”
Further, he charged that the reporter “has shown a discourteousness toward the mission that I think unfortunately gives us no reason to extend a courtesy to him.”
He refused to elaborate, saying, “That’s as far as I want to go.”
One possible bit of “discourteousness” on Kornblau’s mind might have been the story Stogel recently filed for WND about Rice’s expenditure of $250,000 in taxpayers’ money for cosmetic changes to her new suite of offices at the U.S. mission to the U.N., directly opposite U.N. headquarters on Manhattan’s First Avenue.
The 22-story complex officially opened in October 2011, at a cost of just over $100 million, up from a projected price tag of approximately $95 million, explained Renee Miscione, spokeswoman at the GSA’s New York City offices.
The project, begun in 2004, was entering the later stages of construction when Rice, then the new ambassador, requested a tour of the construction site, confirmed Miscione.
GSA was the federal agency charged with supervising construction of the new complex.
Upon completion of the tour, Rice ordered changes to the layout of her new group of offices, which is when the controversy began.
“The layout of the offices was very carefully planned. There was no need for modifications,” explained Richard Grenell, the former director of communications at the U.S. mission during the Bush administration.
Grenell pointed out that a recent predecessor, John Bolton, also saw no need for any changes.
In addition, Zalmay Khalilzad, who served in the office until early 2009, agreed no office modifications were needed
Within weeks, Rice ordered the quarter-million-dollar changes – at the same time the U.S. mission had begun a wave of staff cuts because of budget constraints.
Bolton took issue with the Rice decision.
“Each time I entered the government, I made a conscious decision not to spend anything on redoing offices. The only proper course is to let the permanent bureaucracy decide when to change rugs and drapes, let alone anything more extensive,” the former ambassador said.
GSA confirmed that Rice ordered changes but needed State Department approval to publicly release the corresponding files. Though WND requested the records so they could be examined by an independent architect to determine if Rice’s actions were justified, the State Department continues to block their release.
WND has fought many previous battles over media access barred by government gatekeepers. One of the biggest was a decade ago, in February 2002, when WND was denied accreditation to the Senate Press Gallery for routine access to cover the Capitol. But 10 days after WND threatened to sue every member of the Senate Press Gallery’s Standing Committee of Correspondents, who decide who is a “legitimate” news organization and who is not, WND was granted accreditation in September 2002. Subsequently, WND’s case against the Senate Press Gallery would be considered a groundbreaking legal precedent, paving the way for other online news groups to enter sacred ground previously reserved only for traditional Beltway news organizations.
More recently, WND was denied access by the Department of Transportation to a routine news conference in which then-Secretary Mary Peters defended the controversial Bush administration program allowing Mexican trucks to travel freely on U.S. roads.
Agency spokesman Duane DeBruyne, who was screening reporters at the security entrance of the federal building at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., said he did not have the authority to allow entry to WND senior staff writer Jerome Corsi, who has reported extensively on the program and attended other news conferences on the subject.
DeBruyne telephoned his supervisor, DOT spokeswoman Melissa DeLaney, who declined permission without explanation, demanding that WND leave the premises.
In a phone call to the DOT public affairs office, the agency explained it was requiring “press credentials” for admittance, and no one without them was allowed to participate.
The news conference was only for “credentialed members of the media,” spokesman Bill Moseley told WND. “There’s a specific credential. He did not have a media credential.”
And how can a reporter obtain such a credential resulting in permission to attend?
Responded Moseley, “I don’t know.”
Corsi, however, maintained he never was asked to produce media credentials of any kind, noting he had his usual press ID card issued by WND. Rather, said Corsi, DeBruyne immediately recognized him and apologetically explained that the department would “not accept your press credentials.”
Note: The State Department’s press liaison in Washington is Patrick Ventrell, who can be reached by email here.