WASHINGTON – All it wanted was credentials to cover Congress like 300 other daily news organizations.
But the 100-percent digitally based news service – a medium completely foreign to Old Media gatekeepers here – was denied access.
It suffered through a full year of “stonewalling” by a “bully” known as the Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Senate Daily Press Gallery.
No press passes for “electronic newspapers” that don’t publish, or get published, on trees like everyone else in the gallery, it was explained to the promising, albeit naive, news service. Why, there’s not even any “criteria” by which to judge such an incarnation.
When that excuse didn’t wash, the bullies came up with another one: An outside investor owns part of the company!
After it argued that the gallery had credentialed news agencies wholly owned and controlled by totalitarian regimes, the real reason for exclusion emerged: Politics.
Sounds a lot like WorldNetDaily.com’s battle with the press gallery.
But it’s not.
It was Michael Bloomberg’s.
The founder of Bloomberg News service, who’s now New York City’s mayor, wrote a whole chapter on his Kafkaesque struggle to gain press credentials for his company in his 1997 memoir, “Bloomberg by Bloomberg.”
His situation and the maddening excuses by the obstructionists on the Standing Committee are eerily similar to WorldNetDaily’s.
But here’s the incredible irony: The lead obstructionist in WND’s case is one of Bloomberg’s own.
Bloomberg News correspondent William L. Roberts III has led the five-member committee in refusing congressional access to the popular newssite. As chairman, he signed the original Feb. 8 denial letter listing some of the same excuses Bloomberg received.
Bloomberg delivers news and financial data through computer terminals. When it first applied for a congressional press pass, it met with stiff resistance from then-Standing Committee chairman Jeffrey Birnbaum, then of the Wall Street Journal.
Birnbaum, now with Time, and the other panel members “were reluctant to recognize Bloomberg because we weren’t ‘published’ in the old-fashioned way,” Bloomberg said in his chapter, “‘No’ Is No Answer: Establishment Ignorance and Arrogance.”
“I’m sorry, Matt,” Birnbaum told Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s news chief. “We don’t have criteria for you.”
And the stonewalling began.
That’s exactly what WND was hit with at first.
“You’re an Internet site, a different animal,” said Stephen J. “Joe” Keenan, gallery liaison to Roberts. “We’re not sure how to evaluate you. We’ll need more information.”
And the stonewalling began – lasting a full year, as in Bloomberg’s case, before a decision was made.
The Standing Committee repeatedly failed to meet on WND’s Feb. 8, 2001, application when Keenan said it would. Members even agreed to continue to sit on WND’s application at one of their meetings last year, excerpts of minutes show.
In finally denying WND credentials, Bloomberg News’ Roberts claimed that the newssite – even though it had broken scoops picked up by Bloomberg and the other news outlets represented on the panel – lacked “significant” original content, without defining what that is.
Challenged, the committee backed off its content claim, rationalizing in a June 20 letter written by its lawyer that its policy for evaluating Internet newspapers is “inadequate.”
Iraqi News Service
Bloomberg recalled that Birnbaum’s objection “was just the beginning of the stonewalling we encountered.”
The Standing Committee also didn’t like the fact that Merrill Lynch owned 30 percent of Bloomberg.
Similarly, Roberts in his denial letter objected to the nonprofit Western Journalism Center owning a stake in WND, which was spun off as a for-profit company in 1999 – even though there are no rules against it.
Bloomberg shot back that the Standing Committee had granted press passes to state-owned news agencies such as Tass, the propaganda arm of the old Soviet Union, and the Iraqi News Service, “whose dispatches depicted Saddam Hussein as one of the world’s greatest humanitarians.”
Likewise, WND has pointed out that Beijing’s Xinhua News Agency, Cairo’s Al-Ahram and other state-owned “news” organs have unfettered access to the Capitol.
Bloomberg says he was astonished to learn the power held by the Standing Committee.
“Five reporters decide who is and isn’t a journalist,” he said. “Its rulings have the effect of law among government employees in Washington.”
Indeed, the Standing Committee, which governs both the Senate and House press galleries, not only controls working journalists’ access to all Capitol buildings, but also their ability to get into even higher-security presidential events such as the national party conventions, Inauguration Day and the State of the Union.
As Winkler pressed New York-based Bloomberg’s case, he discovered a hidden political prejudice on the committee.
“All you guys up on Wall Street are corrupt anyway,” one of the journalists on the Standing Committee told him, according to Bloomberg’s and Winkler’s account in their co-authored book.
WorldNetDaily has run into similar bias.
WND’s lawyer Richard Ackerman of the U.S. Justice Foundation discovered a committee research document that indicated it has tried to tie WND to the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
Ackerman is assembling a team of lawyers and paralegals in preparation of filing a discrimination lawsuit against Roberts and the other four members of the committee. The suit, which would seek punitive damages, may name Bloomberg News as well.
‘All taxes good’
What the unnamed anti-business journalist on the committee didn’t know, however, is that Bloomberg and many of his reporters aren’t exactly pro-business conservatives.
In fact, Bloomberg is actually a lifelong Democrat who merely switched parties to avoid a crowded and difficult mayoral primary race.
He told C-SPAN’s Susan Swain in a Jan. 29, 1997, interview that “all taxes are good,” and rich people should give away their money. “If you have some money, do it.”
As New York mayor, Bloomberg has proposed higher taxes and a ban on smoking in bars. He also supports a city council bill recognizing homosexual marriages.
Despite his own confrontation with liberal bias on the committee, Bloomberg maintained in the C-SPAN interview that reporters don’t inject liberal politics into stories.
“Every study shows the press has absolutely no bias,” he contended.
In the end, Bloomberg overcame the quasi-governmental “bully” of the Senate Press Gallery and got credentials – “over a year after we first asked.”
Only now, WND founder and Editor Joseph Farah complains, Bloomberg is the bully on the block.
“Now that they’re in the club, they’ve slammed the door behind them,” he said. “And they’ve put their own bully in charge of guarding the door.”
He says Roberts earlier this year even screamed at him over the phone in a obscenity-laced diatribe after Farah protested the committee’s decision in a column.
Readers following WND’s 19-month press-gallery row have cited Bloomberg’s chapter and noted the irony of him calling the Standing Committee “a bully.”
Some radio stations say they plan to boycott Bloomberg News’ products in protest of Bloomberg’s Washington correspondent blocking WND.
“Bloomberg is pitching our station some programming,” said Doug Graham, program director of WRCG in Columbus, Ga. “I am going to recommend against taking it.”
“And I will tell their sales person that I won’t consider their products as long as their journalists stiff WorldNetDaily in its application for press credentials on Capitol Hill,” he added.
Other readers say they have called Bloomberg TV advertisers to tell them they will boycott their products and services in protest of Roberts’ decision.
Roberts is also mum on the subject.
Asked at WND’s April 15 appeal hearing if Bloomberg settled for day-pass access rather than permanent credentials, Roberts said, “Well, again, this is another question that I’m going to have to deflect.”
The ultimate irony appears in the closing of Bloomberg’s chapter, in which he writes:
“The more choice the reader/listener/viewer has, the more demand there’ll be for Bloomberg’s product – independent, quality journalism – and the more important it is to fight the credentials battles everywhere in the world where access is denied to the people’s only true representative: the free, unfiltered, intelligent, investigatory press.”
WorldNetDaily couldn’t agree more, Farah says. “Now if Bloomberg would just get out of the way.”
Related contact information:
Mayor Bloomberg’s chief of staff, Peter Madonia
Bloomberg spokesman Ed Skyler
Bloomberg News chief Matt Winkler
Standing Committee Chairman William L. Roberts III
If you would like to help WorldNetDaily in its battle with the press police, you can donate to help pay legal costs.