— Michael F. Bennet (@SenBennetCO) June 13, 2017
As the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, a sudden decision by the Republican leadership of the United States Senate to restrict press access to Senators prompted a fierce backlash from Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado today:
Reporters were abruptly barred on Tuesday morning from conducting on-camera interviews at the U.S. Capitol, drawing swift condemnation from reporters and Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
“The attacks by the president on the free press have been outrageous,” Bennet said in a video statement posted to his Twitter account. “And now for the majority in the Senate to bar reporters from their customary places … is a further attack and it can’t stand.”
As Politico reports, Sen. Richard Shelby of the Senate Rules Committee is in damage control mode after this attempt to curtail press access appears to have backfired:
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby sought to tamp down a media firestorm after television reporters were told by the director of the Senate Radio and Television Gallery that they could no longer film impromptu interviews with senators in Capitol hallways.
On Tuesday morning, Mike Mastrian, the director of the Senate Radio and Television Gallery, which reports to the Rules Committee, told reporters that in order to get approval for a hallway interview with a senator, a reporter must now call the committee’s chief counsel and obtain prior permission from the senator being interviewed…
Shelby (R-Ala.) put out a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying there had been no changes to the existing rules, but suggesting that the new guidelines were a matter of tougher enforcement of existing rules.
“The committee has been 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. Once again, no additional restrictions have been put in place by the Rules committee,” Shelby said.
According to Politico, reporters at the Capitol said they were being hassled in the morning, but by the afternoon “the old procedures were back in place and they were no longer facing any new restrictions.” There’s little question at this point that the attempt to curtail access was made, but a swift retreat under claims of a “misunderstanding” allows Republicans to save face.
The recent open hostility toward the press, led by President Donald Trump but increasingly joined by Republican lawmakers with such high-profile incidents as the violent attack on a journalist by a soon-to-be-victorious GOP congressional candidate, seems to be worse than longstanding complaints from the right about the so-called “liberal media.” Last year in Colorado, Republicans dogpiled on the media in an attempt to defend Jon Keyser from the scandal surrounding his forged ballot petitions–and left them looking like fools after Keyser’s campaign fell apart. Trump’s struggle for legitimacy since taking office has likewise forced many Republicans to trash-talk the media far more than they otherwise would, at profound risk to their own credibility as Trump loses legitimacy on an almost daily basis.
It’s got to end at some point, the question being how many will join in the disgrace before it does.