Jealous Journalistic Competitors Reject, Again, SCOTUSblog's Request For A Press Pass

from the ridiculousness-defined dept

We’ve covered the recent troubles the popular SCOTUSblog has had in trying to secure a press pass to the Supreme Court. As we’ve noted SCOTUSblog is basically the go to source for any reporting on the Supreme Court. On days when the court releases new rulings or whether it will hear certain cases, people flood to the blog to pay attention, rather than other news sources that are not nearly as comprehensive or detailed. And yet, because the Supreme Court (oddly) relies on whether or not reporters have press credentials at the Senate, SCOTUSblog has been in an awkward situation. It had a press pass for its main reporter, Lyle Denniston, but that credential was revoked recently. The blog appealed, but in something of a travesty, to do so it had to grovel to its competitors, since existing reporters with Senate press credentials are given the guild-like power to exclude new members.

And that’s just what they’ve done again: rejecting SCOTUSblog’s appeal.

Underscoring the irony, as the blog’s publisher Tom Goldstein notes, is the fact that the Standing Committee of Correspondents that made this decision sent it around just as the latest Supreme Court rulings were coming out, and about 10,000 readers were all watching the SCOTUSblog’s live blog about it. Adding more insult, the Senate Gallery released that decision to others in the press, so that SCOTUSblog found out about it on Twitter from others, rather than directly.

The key issue is that SCOTUSblog’s publisher is Tom Goldstein, and he’s a lawyer who practices before the court. The competing journalists suggest that this violates their existing rules about not allowing a non-independent organization that “lobbies” before the government to get a press pass. Of course, last time around, Goldstein noted that numerous state-owned media properties, who clearly lobbied before the government were given press passes. And this time, he notes that it’s really seemed like his competitors were basically looking for any reason at all to deny them a press pass:

Today, it settled on the fact that practicing lawyers publish and write for the blog. The Committee takes the view that the blog is not editorially independent from my law firm or from other lawyers who write for the blog. As a consequence, the Committee found, the blog violates two independent requirements under the Committee’s Rules: any credentialed publication must be editorially independent from an organization that (i) “lobbies the federal government”; or (ii) “is not principally a general news organization.”

However, as Goldstein notes, this is a pretty silly distinction, because based on a broad reading of those two prongs, almost no one should qualify.

Begin with the fact that the decision applies equally to publications in any field, whether health care, automobiles, technology, education, or anything else. It is not dependent on the fact that I work for a law firm that practices before the Supreme Court. The Committee deems it sufficient that the firm is not principally a news organization. So its reasoning extends equally to any publication that is produced by someone who plays dual roles, one of which isn’t a news organization.

As a result, the purpose and effect of the Standing Committee’s decision is to limit credentialing to traditional media in every field. The Rules contemplate that there can be a direct relationship between a publication and non-news organization – they just must be editorially independent. But the Committee construes that requirement of independence in the broadest way possible: to forbid an overlap in personnel.

Given that, while Goldstein doesn’t say it, it does raise serious questions about others. For example, the head of the committee who rejected SCOTUSblog’s appeal works for the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ is owned by News Corp. and Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch is somewhat famous for meddling in matters of government. So, um, isn’t the WSJ not editorially independent of someone looking to lobby the government? And, yes, the WSJ has editorial policies that claim to make it independent, but so does SCOTUSblog, and Goldstein notes that apparently is not enough.

Furthermore, Goldstein makes a much more important point: there’s a reason why SCOTUSblog is so respected. And part of that is because of their expertise:

We are experts in the Supreme Court in large part because we practice before the Supreme Court. Lyle has over five decades of experience as a journalist covering the Court. But the rest of us have acquired our knowledge through many years litigating in front of the Justices. That expertise lets us cover the Court well, and it gives our coverage added credibility. The same will be true across the infinite number of fields to which its rationale applies.

In fact, the Committee does not seem to doubt that. It does not see these rules as an obstacle, so long as every one of us now quits our jobs as practicing lawyers and commits ourselves exclusively to the same occupation as the Committee members. But so long as any of us continues to practice, we lack editorial independence.

Furthermore, this theory of reporters only being able to be reporters if they’re only reporters and aren’t practitioners creates other problems, especially in an age when experts can become publishers with the simple push of a button.

This scenario – specialists reporting on their respective fields of expertise – is going to grow, not diminish. Traditional media is contracting. Non-traditional, expert media is expanding, including because we have access to inexpensive distribution through the Internet. We do not need a printing press.

It seems a shame to erect obstacles to access when organizations like ours share the values and further the goals of journalism. We reach a lot of people. No organization in the nation’s history has devoted nearly the resources we have in covering this important institution. The Committee does not seem to doubt that our actual coverage is comprehensive and thoughtful.

Goldstein is going to appeal this decision even further, but has no idea if it will be overturned. Part of the problem here seems to be an antiquated view of what journalism really is in this day and age. And part of the problem seems to just be institutional jealousy by reporters acting as gatekeepers who don’t want to let the new guy into the party. Either way, it speaks horribly about the cliquey nature of traditional journalism and their unwillingness to recognize how the internet works.

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Comments on “Jealous Journalistic Competitors Reject, Again, SCOTUSblog's Request For A Press Pass”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

As we’ve noted SCOTUSblog is basically the go to source for any reporting on the Supreme Court.

That right there is the real reason they’re having so much trouble I’d say, they are providing far too much competition to those already ‘in’, and therefor suddenly the rules that were, and continue to be, ignored for those that got in before are being pulled out and applied full force against them.

Whatever (profile) says:

Good reporting is one thing, but also being attached to a law firm that regularly appears in front of the court can lead to conflicts of interest. If they feel they have to skip covering certain stories because of it, then they already know why they are getting rejected.

Too bad, their reporting is very good. The conflict of interest however makes me wonder if anyone has their thumb on the scales of their reporting.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If ‘conflict of interest’ was really the reason they were having to deal with all this, there are several other groups that should be given the boot much more than them.

From a previous article:

-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.?

And yet somehow SCOTUSblog is the one with ‘too much conflict of interest’ to be granted press credentials, while all the rest listed above aren’t.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

In each of the cases you note, the is nothing to do with the Supreme Court. They are worried about impartiality when it comes to their rulings, not in if the agency is entirely utterly independent from anything and everything.

This isn’t about covering a marketplace or reporting on business deals, it’s about how cases in front of the highest court are explained, represented, and reported to those who need to know about them. The owners of this blog also have a vested interest in how the court rules and how those rulings are perceived, which makes them very close to the subject matter at hand.

Can you show me how many of the companies and groups you listed have a specific conflict of interest with the business of the court?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

How about ‘Any and all depending on the situation/ruling’? If a particular ruling is one that one(or more) of those groups finds important, or affects them, it’s pretty much a given they’re going to spin it in a manner favorable to themselves, given just who they are.

The first group listed are basically PR agencies for various foreign governments, the second, similar, but for industry interests. Do you really think they would provide impartial reporting over a case/ruling that affected their area of interest?

This isn’t about covering a marketplace or reporting on business deals, it’s about how cases in front of the highest court are explained, represented, and reported to those who need to know about them.

Something which SCOTUSblog apparently did very well, while the other groups already in did a pretty lousy job managing, hence their popularity.

If the concern is they might not be as ‘unbiased’ as they should be in their reporting, that’s not their problem. Whether a news or other reporting agency group did nothing but praise the rulings coming out, vilify them, or anything in between, that’s their choice, and their particular ‘flavor’ of spin should have no influence on whether or not they are deemed ‘worthy’ to be able to have access to the source material.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You seem to be saying “We don’t know how to tell if your published stories are editorially independent, so we’re not going to give you a press pass.”

If that’s the case, why can that not apply to every other party that already (still) has a press pass?

Shouldn’t the answer be to simply put “[your] thumb on the scales of their reporting”?

Anonymous Coward says:

Things are moving to the internet. The old legacy groups are trying to hold the sea back. Sooner or later they will look around to discover they are eyebrow deep in the water and no where do their silly rules apply. It will be interesting then to see how the rules are ‘modified’ to attempt to continue the exclusivity.

The old, “It’s hard to soar with the eagles” thing.

Reporter X says:

Not so sure ...

I am not so sure that most people today understand the meanings of: Reporting; Journalism; Analysis; Opinion

SOCTUSBLOG provides analysis and opinion, based on some reporting (the statement of the facts). No “news organization” that I am aware of in today’s market provides journalism.

bobby b says:

So, the “traditional news organizations” will from now on recuse themselves from attending and reporting about cases dealing with free speech issues, corporate taxation issues, corporate governance issues . . . ?

By their own logic, how can they not? The danger of an organization such as the NYT incorrectly explaining a First Amendment case is real.

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