WASHINGTON – The Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Senate Press Gallery now claims it offered WorldNetDaily.com the same “three-month temporary” credentials it recently gave the military newspaper Stars & Stripes.
Only, it never happened.
The five-member panel in January notified Stars & Stripes of its decision to grant the paper’s reporters so-called “hard passes” to cover Congress for three months. The quasi-governmental body extended the privileges for another three months in May, while it continued to mull over the paper’s application for permanent credentials.
Stars & Stripes is funded in part by the Defense Department and may not meet the gallery rules for financial and editorial independence – although Beijing’s Xinhua News Agency, the propaganda organ of the Chinese Communist Party, and other state-owned organs, including some from Arab nations, are full-fledged members of the gallery.
“They called us and said, ‘Hey, you’re in for three months. Come on down and get your passes,'” recalled Stars & Stripes Managing Editor Doug Clawson.
He says his reporters have been using hard passes, or official photo IDs, to freely cover Congress ever since.
“Reporters can go right up there and do their work now,” he said.
Standing Committee Chairman William L. Roberts III said earlier this week that the panel offered “the same three-month temporary” credentials to WND.
In fact, no one from the committee notified WND or its counsel Richard Ackerman of any such offer. Nor did the committee’s lawyer, N. Frank Wiggins of Venable LLP.
On June 18, the latest action on WND’s application, the panel decided only that it was “prepared to provisionally recognize WorldNetDaily.” And even that was “pending receipt of additional information requested from the” nonprofit Western Journalism Center, from which WND was spun off in 1999 as a separate for-profit company incorporated in Delaware.
Though the center turned over its IRS tax returns for 2001 and 2000, Roberts continues to demand more financial data. Sensing a “fishing expedition,” WND founder and Editor Joseph Farah has refused any further cooperation.
At the same time, the panel denied WND’s Washington bureau chief permanent credentials in a separate adjudication, which appears to have been in violation of Senate rules. On Aug. 1, in a secret meeting with no votes, the committee also disqualified him from day passes.
(The press gallery provides three types of passes to reporters: day, temporary and permanent.)
In contrast, no conditions were placed on Stars & Stripes’ temporary privileges, Clawson says.
And release of more Western Journalism Center documentation apparently wasn’t the only condition applied to WND.
According to committee member Jack Torry of the Columbus Dispatch, the popular newssite also had to “demonstrate it would publish its own content.”
That’s what he told a WND reader from Perrysburg, Ohio.
“We offered WND a temporary pass – as we have done with Stars and Stripes and a host of other organizations – until the organization demonstrated it would publish its own content,” Torry said in an Aug. 6 e-mail to Jill Bandy. “They turned us down.”
Again, no such offer was ever made, and WND was never notified of such a condition, which makes little sense given the fact that WND has been publishing its own news content, alongside links to other news stories, since it was founded five years ago. (In fact, Torry’s own paper has picked up some of WND’s scoops, along with the news agencies that employ the four other members of the committee.) Nor did the newssite, with more than 2.5 million readers, “turn down” any temporary privileges, as Torry claimed.
Asked to provide proof of such offers, Wiggins referred questions to Roberts, who blithely claimed: “It’s all on the website,” referring to WND case documents posted on the Senate Press Gallery site.
Torry’s version is also at odds with the committee’s own June 18 ruling to seek more Western Journalism Center data. The issue of content is absent from the decision – which was unanimous, 5-0, meaning Torry was at the meeting and voted for the action. Yet he told a WND reader another story just weeks later.
In addition, according to excerpts of the minutes of an alleged committee meeting on WND last year, the panel offered WND “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.”
The offer allegedly was made after a May 21, 2001, meeting.
Yet WND was not notified at any time of any such six-month day-pass benefit contingent on “receipt of further information” on the Western Journalism Center.
“The six-month thing was never stated by anyone,” Farah said.
“This is just more evidence of the absolutely inexcusable sloppiness with which (Standing Committee members) carry out their duties,” he added. “No notes, altered minutes, revised history.”
Farah explains that Roberts – who along with Wiggins earlier this year refused to turn over any meeting notes to WND’s legal team – had a gallery staffer retype excerpts of all formal committee discussions of WND’s application only after it was discovered the minutes of meetings had been posted on a bulletin board in the Senate Press Gallery and therefore were public information available to WND all along.
Roberts posted the retyped excerpts on the gallery website, while still refusing to turn over the formal minutes. At this point, there’s no way for WND to tell if the retyped excerpts match the contemporaneous notes, or if they’ve been edited. It also cannot determine the context in which deliberations on WND were held. Roberts won’t reveal even excerpts of the rest of the minutes in those meetings in which WND was allegedly discussed. Ackerman, however, has demanded Wiggins turn over all formal minutes dating back to 1999.
The excerpts regarding WND, which span all of one page, cite four meetings on WND – April 23, 2001; May 21, 2001; Jan. 29, 2001; and April 8, 2002. Notes from the June 18 and Aug. 1 meetings of this year are still missing.
The committee and gallery officials have had a hard time getting their story straight, on when they first met to discuss WND’s application. At an April 15 appeal hearing, they claimed it was May 5, 2001. They quietly changed the date to April 23, 2001, in the official transcript.
In the excerpts of the April 23, 2001, meeting minutes, it says: “The committee also temporarily delayed action on an application from WorldNetDaily.com pending further review.”
In other words, committee members didn’t actually take up the application on April 23, 2001. WND submitted its application two-and-a-half months earlier, on Feb. 8, 2001.
Between May 21, 2001, the next meeting on WND, and Jan. 29, 2002, when the committee voted to deny WND’s application, there is an eight-month gap.
Farah says the claim of a six-month probationary period stated in the retyped May 21, 2001, meeting excerpt is “all too convenient.”
“It nicely covers that gap in which there was no adjudication on WND, no action, and a lot of stonewalling and footdragging,” he said.
Indeed, the committee took no final, if any, action on WND for a full year.
Meanwhile, e-mails show that its liaison and chief investigator, Senate Press Gallery Deputy Director Stephen J. “Joe” Keenan, strung WND along, claiming the committee was set to meet on WND, when in fact it was not.