The Department of Transportation today barred WND from attending a news conference in which 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, requiring WND to 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 providing permission to attend?
“I don’t know,” Moseley responded.
But Corsi said he was never asked to produce media credentials of any kind, noting he had a press ID card issued by WND. DeBruyne, Corsi said, immediately recognized him and apologetically explained the department would “not accept your press credentials.”
Corsi paraphrased DeBruyne saying, “We know who you are, we know you’re from WND, we read your stories.”
“They never asked for what credentials I had,” Corsi said. “They didn’t want to see anything from me. That was never in question.”
“It’s outrageous you were turned away at the door,” Teamster President James P. Hoffa told WND. “I thought we had free press in the United States. What’s Secretary Peters afraid of?”
The press conference by Peters came in advance of what is expected to be a rancorous oversight hearing tomorrow scheduled by the Senate Commerce Committee on the issue.
“WND sent a New York-based reporter to Washington to cover an area within his specialization, only to be turned away by bureaucrats for not being ‘credentialed,'” said Joseph Farah, WND’s founder and editor.
“WorldNetDaily is credentialed by the Senate Press Gallery to cover the Capitol. WorldNetDaily is credentialed to cover the White House. WorldNetDaily is a member in good standing of the Washington Press Club. Our reporter on the scene is a Harvard Ph.D and best-selling author. WorldNetDaily is one of the largest news sources in the world, larger than any newspaper websites except the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today. If those credentials aren’t good enough, I’d sure like to know which journalists were permitted in the Department of Transportation hearing.”
Hoffa told WND he planned to call Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J, who is expected to chair the hearing, to protest WND being turned away.
Leslie Miller, the Teamsters communications coordinator, also was dismayed WND had been prevented from hearing the DOT press conference.
“It’s an absolute outrage when the executive branch of the government tries to stifle free speech by selecting who it shares information with,” Miller wrote WND in an e-mail.
“What are they afraid of? Are their arguments so weak they can only allow people they consider ‘friendly’ into their news conferences?” she asked.
As WND previously reported, a constitutional crisis is developing over DOT’s decision to continue the Mexican demonstration project in defiance of a vote by the House and Senate that removed funding for the effort. That vote was in the Consolidated Appropriations Act signed by President Bush Dec. 26.
At the press conference today, Peters announced plans to forward to Congress a letter signed by 69 companies and associations urging Congress to allow the project to continue, under the argument that Mexico could retaliate if it is discontinued.
The letter argued Mexican retaliation could jeopardize up to 49,909 U.S. jobs in 17 states.
In a statement posted on the agency’s website, Peters “cautioned Congress” not to stop the program.
“Whatever their reason, this is not time to let the politics of pessimism dim the promise of prosperity for hundreds of thousands of American drivers, growers and manufacturers,” she said. “We should be looking for every chance to open new markets for our drivers, to find new buyers for our products and encourage new consumers for our produce.
“Our drivers and our workers don’t deserve a timeout from success and prosperity. So my message to Congress is clear. If you want to help American businesses thrive, support American agricultural success, and champion American highway safety, then keep on trucking with cross border shipping,” the statement said.
Rod Nofziger, director of government affairs at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, was not impressed with Peters’ statement.
“The Bush administration seems to appreciate Vladimir Putin’s approach to executive branch activism,” he said.
“Today’s press conference was a weak attempt to shift the focus away from the safety and security deficiencies of their pilot program,” Nofziger said in a e-mail. “It’s sad they are turning to economic fear mongering to cover their tails.”
Hoffa agreed, arguing Peters is on the losing side of the argument, both legally and in the court of public opinion.
“How many times does the Department of Transportation have to be told ‘No’? The Senate has said ‘No’ and the House has said ‘No.’ President Bush signed the bill removing funding for the Mexican truck demonstration project to continue. What more does DOT need?” he said.
As WND reported, the Teamsters argued Feb. 12 in front of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that Peters broke federal laws aimed at ensuring American voters are not endangered by allowing Mexican trucks on U.S. roads.
In a press teleconference today, Hoffa cited as evidence of the safety hazards represented by Mexican trucks a Jan. 11 accident at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in Texas caused by a Mexican driver who made a U-turn at the border, triggering a collision and fire that killed four and left six with minor injuries.
Mexican truck drivers routinely make U-turns back into Mexico when they realize they will be stopped at the border and denied entry because they lack proper documentation to bring their cargo into the U.S.
“George Bush is a lame duck,” Hoffa said. “The administration has a limited time frame to get Mexican trucks into the United States on an unlimited basis, and they don’t care what they need to do to get this done.”
Asked about Peter’s argument that U.S. trucking companies want access to Mexico, Hoffa scoffed.
“It’s ridiculous when the State Department issues regular warnings to alert U.S. citizens to the dangers of kidnappings and murder if they travel Mexico’s roads,” he said. “No trucker wants to drive a load of automobiles into Mexico to park them somewhere.”
The arguments presented to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came in cases brought by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and a coalition of the Sierra Club, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Public Citizen.
“It makes no sense that while safety and security laws are continually being ratcheted up on U.S.-based drivers and companies, the DOT wants to allow their Mexico-based counterparts to get by with lower standards,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA.
His organization alleges the Mexican-based carriers are not meeting U.S. rules and regulations regarding safety. Specifically, OOIDA has challenged Department of Transportation claims that drug and alcohol testing programs, medical qualifications standards and commercial driver’s license demands for truck drivers in Mexico are “equivalent” to those for U.S. drivers.
Catherine O’Mara, a paralegal from the Cullen Law Firm of Washington, D.C., previously compiled the safety inspection reports on the Mexico-based motor carriers and a summary of selected SafeStat Data.
Her work showed that in the span of one year, Sept. 21, 2006, to Sept. 21, 2007, four of the Mexican companies participating in the Bush administration’s test trucking program collected more than 1,700 safety violations.
The Teamsters, who argued a separate legal challenge to the program on related issues, have taken the issue one step further, launching a campaign to encourage the firing of Peters, on whose watch the program has been developed.
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