Political News

Did Senate Republicans just up the ante in the war on the media?

Posted June 13

President Donald Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the so-called "mainstream media." In fact, on Monday morning Trump let loose with a string of anti-press tweets including this one: "The Fake News Media has never been so wrong or so dirty. Purposely incorrect stories and phony sources to meet their agenda of hate. Sad!"

Now it appears some within the Senate GOP are following Trump's lead on dealing (or, more accurately not dealing) with the media.

Right around noon Tuesday, NBC's Kasie Hunt tweeted this: "ALERT: Reporters at Capitol have been told they are not allow to film interviews with senators in hallways, contrary to years of precedent." She quickly added: "CONDITIONS for any interview: Previously granted permission from senator AND Rules Committee of Senate."

CNN's Manu Raju wrote: "Senate Rules Committee and @SenateSAA trying to SHUT DOWN press access in halls. No more staking out hearings without permission. Not OK."

What happened next is a little unclear. CNN's Dylan Byers reported:

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said Tuesday that the Committee had "made no changes to the existing rules governing press coverage," but that it was "working with the various galleries to ensure compliance with existing rules in an effort to help provide a safe environment for Members of Congress, the press corps, staff, and constituents as they travel from Senate offices to the Capitol."

But reporters and many Democratic senators viewed the move as an effort to reduce press access and allow senators to conduct public business in private and without accountability. The directive, which was issued by the Senate Radio and Television Correspondents Gallery, comes as Senate Republicans are drafting a health care bill in a process shrouded in secrecy.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, tweeted: "Just spoke with Senator Shelby. He said he wouldn't move forward on change to press access without consulting me and we must hold him to it."

Even the suggestion of limiting press access on Capitol Hill, amid all of the traditions regarding the media that have been shattered over the past two years, is an eye-popper. And something that would have an immediate -- and negative -- effect on the way reporters interact with elected officials.

Having spent a chunk of my time in my late 20s on Capitol Hill, I can tell you that the reason that the Congressional beat is so great as a reporter is the access you get to members of Congress.

On the Senate side, reporters camp out in the hallway outside the chamber as soon as a vote is called (and sometimes in between too). The senators stream off the elevators right in front of the reporters, allowing any journalist for any publication to ask a question of one of the most powerful politicians in the country. There are rules governing where cameras can be set up, but there is access. Not every senator stops. But, many do.

It's a remarkably egalitarian system. It's what, I think, democracy looks like.

Taking away -- or "reviewing" -- reporters' ability to film those interview and requiring any interaction with a senator to run through the Senate Rules Committee -- would constitute a remarkable abrogation of that interaction between reporters and elected officials.

Within minutes of the news breaking, Senators -- Democrats and Republicans -- were condemning the move.

"GOP should respect the 1st Amendment and let reporters do their jobs," tweeted Virginia Senator and 2016 vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine. "More important than ever as Senators try to push through secret bills."

"This is a bad idea," tweeted Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse (R).

"Of all the problems in America, y'all are pretty down the list," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) told reporters.

Here's the thing: You don't need to like the media -- hell, you can hate the media -- to see why any proposed filming ban is a very, very dangerous thing. Without a free and independent media, politicians aren't held accountable. Power shrouds itself more and more in secrecy. The people paying the politicians' salaries -- We the People -- have less and less ability to know how they are spending their time.

Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, Libertarian or whatever else doesn't matter. People asking questions -- and, yes, sometimes hard and annoying questions -- is your bulwark against the erosion of democracy.

With stakes that big, even small erosions in press freedom matter. Bigly.

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