Democrats And Reporters Say The Senate Is Trying To Restrict Press Access

Bruno Cirelli
Giugno 14, 2017

But McConnell is shepherding a sweeping health care bill largely behind closed doors and reporters and Democrats quickly assumed that they were being further shut out.

Earlier today, U.S. Senate staff told reporters that they "could no longer film impromptu interviews with senators in Capitol hallways", Politico reported.

The restrictions are not something new voted on by the Senate Rules Committee but rather a "unilateral decision" by the committee chair, Sen.

Richard Shelby of Alabama denied that any "change" took place and said the committee wanted to enforce "existing rules" in order to provide a "safe environment" for senators and reporters.

News reporter Kasie Hunt tweeted that "reporters at Capitol have been told they are not allow [sic] to film interviews with senators in hallways".

The new guidance caught reporters off guard.

That means no more off-the-cuff comments from Senators emerging from hearings, nor any badgering from a well-meaning press wanting to know, for example, where the hell the healthcare bill is and what it may contain. The Hill notes that depending on the location of the interaction, the the Senate sergeant-at-arms' permission would be required. The Senate Rules Committee's main line was busy.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who went viral after she called out Republicans for writing their health care bill in secret, also suggested the rule change was an effort by Republicans to dodge questions on the health care bill. In other words, such a restriction would completely choke off access for broadcast reporters and, if the GOP succeeded, no doubt clamping down on print reporters would be next.

Buzzfeed reporter Paul McLeod said Sen. TV reporters regularly conduct live interviews with senators in the hallways.

Except in times of crisis, according to Chambers, "the outer and hallway areas have traditionally been the quasi public "space" where senators and the press interact, and indeed senators called upon respond to a State of the Union address typically do so from these hallways... at no time has the press been excluded from areas outside hearing rooms even in the Capitol".

Any attempt to limit the press's access is problematic, particularly given the ambitious agenda Republicans are trying to pursue this year. And something that would have an immediate - and negative - effect on the way reporters interact with elected officials. When a party has abandoned its commitment to democratic norms, it is no surprise to see it stifle press coverage that shows them in a bad light (i.e., accurately reporting on what they're doing).

It's not because it's a nice thing to do, or because they like it - as this most recent development shows, they clearly don't.

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