Best Reporters On The Supreme Court Forced To Grovel Before Competitors To Prove They're Worthy Of A Press Pass

from the ridiculousness-defined dept

Back in April, we wrote about the travesty of the very best reporters on everything Supreme Court related, SCOTUSblog, still not having a press pass to the Supreme Court. The issue is somewhat complicated, in part because of the seriously arcane credentialing process involved. Basically, the Supreme Court looks kindly on reporters who already are credentialed by the Senate. But the Senate credentialing process involves the “Standing Committee of Correspondents” who get to decide who else to let in. The committee, basically, are journalists who have already been let into the club deciding who else can join them. When you set up a guild that lets you exclude innovative and disruptive players, guess what happens?

While the Senate had allowed a SCOTUSblog reporter, Lyle Denniston, in the past, it revoked that credential and said that it wouldn’t give him or SCOTUSblog a new credential. While they don’t say why, the main issue seems to be that the blog’s publisher is Tom Goldstein, a practicing lawyer who does, on occasion, practice before the Supreme Court. Yet, there’s a clear separation between the reporters covering the various cases and Goldstein’s legal work. In fact, SCOTUSblog will not cover cases Goldstein’s firm is involved in. And no one seems to deny that the reporters who work for the blog do great work.

In an effort that seemed to only highlight the ridiculousness of the situation, the “Standing Committee of Correspondents” decided to hold “a hearing” about the issue, which seemed merely designed to make them look as pompous and out of touch as possible. Or, at the very least, to show what happens when petty people are put in a position of power over others. Goldstein notes that the “hearing” seemed to involve all of their (apparently jealous) competitors on the “Standing Committee” digging up any reasons they could think of to deny them a press pass:

But the Standing Committee seems committed – having previously granted us a credential – to reaffirm its decision revoking our pass.  In listening to our appeal, which the chair labeled a “hearing,” the Committee members carefully divided up materials that they could use in an effort to undermine our qualifications.  (My favorite by far is that, unbeknownst to us, the Gallery’s staff director came to our office to take pictures of our signage and doors.)  No member of the Committee even acknowledged the recognition by others that the blog is engaged in high-quality journalism.  The closest it came was the chair’s firm statement that the Committee had a duty not to bow to “public pressure.”  That seems to miss the point.

It appears to be nothing more than a guild process to exclude competitors.

The main point that critics of SCOTUSblog have, concerning Goldstein’s day job, is that publications are supposed to be “editorially independent from any organization that is ‘not principally a news organization.'” And, specifically, they are supposed to avoid giving press credentials to someone who may be lobbying Congress. But Goldstein quickly points out that the Committee appears to have no problems violating those rules for other publications that either are controlled by foreign governments and/or large companies:

  • Several credentialed organizations are government agencies:  Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China; Saudi Press Agency, an organ of the Saudi Ministry of Information; Itar-Tass News Agency, the central information agency of Russia;  Akahata, the official paper of the Japanese Communist Party; and Notimex Mexican News Agency, which has an executive editor appointed by the President of Mexico and a governing board of representatives of five government agencies.
  • Several credentialed organizations are affiliated with commercial businesses directly related to the subjects they cover:  Energy Daily has several credentialed reporters, and it is owned by a substantial provider of energy consulting services, IHS, Inc.; LRP Publications has credentialed reporters, and also puts on trade shows and conferences; MLEX has credentialed reporters, and provides clients with “Market Insight” and “Predictive Analysis of Regulatory Risk.”

Goldstein wonders how it could be that SCOTUSblog, which is widely respected for its reporting on the Court, somehow creates “a greater risk of entanglement of journalism and other activities than state-sponsored news organizations.”

A NY Times article about this quotes someone noting that the whole setup is one of “the fox guarding the henhouse.” Though, it’s not even clear that’s the right analogy. This seems more like petty tyrants using their power to exclude someone who often does their job better than they do. And the whole show trial aspect of forcing SCOTUSblog to attend a “hearing” where a giant stack of “evidence” is presented against them merely confirms the travesty of the whole situation. The members of the Standing Committee of Correspondents should be ashamed of themselves. Just admit the facts and grant SCOTUSblog a press pass.

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Comments on “Best Reporters On The Supreme Court Forced To Grovel Before Competitors To Prove They're Worthy Of A Press Pass”

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22 Comments
Whatever says:

Re: Public pressure?

The issue is that the separation from the reporters to the lawyer is very small. Like it or not, the blog exists and is paid for by lawyers who appear in front of the court. On the face of it, there is clearly the potential for bias.

That they don’t cover stories that involve their firm and the court only actually adds to the problem, as these cases may be significant. An unbiased media shouldn’t be in a position of having to intentionally ignore stories to remain whole.

It’s in the public’s interest to support independent media. Giving a press pass to a lawyer supported blog (no matter how good the blog is) goes against that concept.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Public pressure?

It’s in the public’s interest to support independent media

In theory, this makes a lot of sense, but in practice, this is is the Supreme Court – everyone is impacted by these decisions. Only foreign reporters could possibly be truly independent.

The idea that they are not made completely public with all reporters having equal access is an antiquated concept born during a time when it was not possible to give everyone access to video and audio feeds from the courtroom.

Zonker says:

Re: Re: Public pressure?

The issue is that the separation from the reporters to the lawyer is very small. Like it or not, the blog exists and is paid for by lawyers who appear in front of the court. On the face of it, there is clearly the potential for bias.

From the article:

Several credentialed organizations are affiliated with commercial businesses directly related to the subjects they cover: Energy Daily has several credentialed reporters, and it is owned by a substantial provider of energy consulting services, IHS, Inc.; LRP Publications has credentialed reporters, and also puts on trade shows and conferences; MLEX has credentialed reporters, and provides clients with ?Market Insight? and ?Predictive Analysis of Regulatory Risk.?

The separation from energy reporters and energy consulting services is very small, so the Energy Daily should lose its credentials for the same reason.

The separation from business reporters and organizers of trade shows and conferences is very small, so LRP Publications should lose its credentials for the same reason.

The separation from market reporters and “Market Insight” services is very small, so MLEX should lose its credentials for the same reason.

And that’s just those mentioned in the article, shall we go through every credentialed journalist’s potential conflict of interest and revoke their credentials too?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Public pressure?

? separation?

Rust v Sullivan (1991) upheld a facial challenge to regulations which restricted recipients of federal resources under a specific funding authority. Among the principal conditions imposed, these regulations required ?that Title X projects be organized so that they are ?physically and financially separate? from prohibited abortion activities.? The forbidden abortion activities included ?encourag[ing], promot[ing] or advocat[ing] abortion as a method of family planning.? That is, the prohibited activities included expression protected by the First Amendment.

In upholding these regulations, Chief Justice Rehnquist made a sharp distinction between a governmentally-subsidized project, and the broader identity of those participating in that governmentally-subsidized project.

?.?.?. The Secretary’s regulations do not force the Title X grantee to give up abortion-related speech; they merely require that the grantee keep such activities separate and distinct from Title X activities. Title X expressly distinguishes between a Title X grantee and a Title X project.?.?.?. The Title X grantee can continue to perform abortions, provide abortion-related services, and engage in abortion advocacy; it simply is required to conduct those activities through programs that are separate and independent from the project that receives Title X funds.

In contrast, our “unconstitutional conditions” cases involve situations in which the Government has placed a condition on the recipient of the subsidy rather than on a particular program or service, thus effectively prohibiting the recipient from engaging in the protected conduct outside the scope of the federally funded program.?.?.?.

(Emphasis in original.)

In light of this, some financial and organizational ?separation? between the activities of news reporters who benefit from access to the Senate Press Galleries, and the activities of lobbyists not entitled to so benefit, seems to comport with precedent.

Anonymous Sarcastic Petty Troll (user link) says:

Oh Goodie - we got the real journalists out

Oh come you techdirt radical commies! You don’t want to hear from those dummies from schotisblug! Listen to what we have to say. Repeat after me.
I will not think for myself. I will believe everything NBC, CBS and CNN tells us. Only they know the truth.

Trust Me! I would never steer you wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

what is preventing them from suing to gain access?

First, the process before the Senate is not yet complete. Under the rules, as I understand them, the Senate has reserved the ultimate decision for itself. Thus, a lawsuit now would be premature.

Second, Article I, Section 5 provides

Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings?

Further, Article I, Section 6 provides

for any speech or debate in either House, they [Senators and Representatives] shall not be questioned in any other place.

These constitutional provisions present a serious obstacle to the success of any suit in an Article III court.

The New York Times article linked in the story above mentions and quotes from the district court decision in Consumers Union v Periodical Correspondents (D.D.C.1973), yet for some reason fails to note that in 1975 the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed that decision below.

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