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Congressional Regulation of the Press Galleries

As described in this Hill article by Alexander Bolton, Vice President Biden’s office has filed a complaint with the Senate Press Gallery regarding the tactics used by a credentialed reporter who used the pretense of posing for a photograph with the Vice President to get close enough to ask him a question. In case you were wondering what authority the Press Gallery has, and where it comes from, here is a brief summary.

The D.C. Circuit described the background of the congressional press galleries in Consumers Union v. Periodical Press Gallery, 515 F.2d 1341 (D.C. Cir. 1975):

 When Congress first convened in 1789, “the Legislative as well as Executive sittings of the Senate were held with closed doors” (1 Annals of Cong. 16 (1789)), but the House of Representatives admitted the press to the floor so they might report the debates of the House (1 Annals of Cong. 952-56 (1789)). In 1794, the Senate authorized limited access to its galleries by the public and in 1802 resolved that “any stenographer or note-taker, desirous to take the debates of the Senate on Legislative business, may be admitted for that purpose at such place, within the area of the Senate Chamber, as the President shall allot.” (11 (7th Congress) Annals of Cong. 22 (1802 (1801-1802)) ). For a time thereafter, reporters were permitted on the floors of the Senate and House. This privilege apparently was abused with considerable frequency by journalists importuning Members on behalf of various claims before Congress. (Cong.Globe, 32d Cong., 2d Sess. 52 (1852)). For that reason and the growing congestion on the floors, both Houses finally enacted rules permanently removing the press from the floors of Congress. Press galleries above the floors were eventually established and in 1888 the Senate (Cong.Directory, 50th Cong., 1st Sess. 160 (1888)), and 1916 the House (53 Cong.Rec. 1214 (1916)), entrusted their management to a Standing Committee of Correspondents.

Some more detail may be found in this interesting article, which describes how Senate Whigs, led by Henry Clay, created the first “Reporter’s Gallery” in 1841, and how the press first took on the responsibility of self-regulation in 1879, when rules for the Galleries were drafted in the offices of the New York Times.

The congressional press galleries are currently governed by House Rule VI and Senate Rule XXXIII, which give the Speaker of the House and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration the authority to prescribe regulations for the portions of the galleries set aside for the press in their respective chambers. House Rule VI also explicitly establishes self-governance by the press galleries, providing for a Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Press Gallery (governing newspaper reporters), an Executive Committee of Correspondents for the Periodical Press Gallery (governing magazine reporters) and an Executive Committee of the Radio and Television Correspondents Galleries (governing radio and tv reporters), to supervise their respective galleries, subject to the direction and control of the Speaker.

(Interestingly, up until the current Congress, House Rule VI also provided for privileged access to the floor for five media outlets (AP, UPI, CBS, NBC and ABC). These provisions were deleted from the rules adopted by the 112th Congress.)

Pursuant to authority provided by their respective rules, the Speaker and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration have adopted Rules and Regulations governing the three press galleries. These rules establish criteria for admission and conduct by members of the galleries and are applied by the press committee for each gallery.

The Rules and Regulations of the Periodical Press Gallery (which would be applicable to the magazine reporter who questioned the Vice President) may be found here. (Note: the VP’s office apparently complained to the wrong press gallery.) The regulations regarding reporter conduct are fairly minimal, and do not appear to apply to the conduct alleged by the Vice President’s office. The regulations require that accredited reporters obey a dress code, refrain from audible conversation and reading newspapers while in the House and Senate chambers, avoid eavesdropping in the Speaker’s Lobby and obey all security regulations.

I doubt that the Executive Committee will take any action on the Vice President’s complaint. If it should do so, however, it should be noted that the reporter would have limited avenues of redress. In the Consumers Union case, the D.C. Circuit held that decisions regarding admission to the congressional press galleries were immune from judicial review as the subject was one exclusively committed to the House and Senate under the Rules of Proceedings and Speech or Debate Clauses.

I represented the Periodical Press Gallery in the late 1990s in a case, Schreibman v. Holmes, where Mr. Schreibman, who published a one-man internet news service, was denied credentials by the Executive Committee. Although not explicitly provided for by the rules, Schreibman first appealed the denial to the Speaker and Senate Rules and Administration Committee  (neither took any action). He then brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where Judge Urbina held the case non-justiciable under Consumers Union. Schriebman appealed to the D.C. Circuit and attempted to convince the court that Consumers Union was either distinguishable or should be overruled based on subsequent case law. The court bought neither argument and denied the appeal.

Although I was victorious in the Schreibman case, Mr. Schreibman may have the last laugh, seeing as how I now run a one-man blog and wouldn’t mind getting admitted to the Periodical Press Gallery myself. Such is life.

7 Comments

  1. pow wow says:

    I too sincerely wish that you could be a regular attendee in the House and Senate periodical and press galleries, Michael. If only to report back to the blogosphere (as the credentialed media can’t be bothered to do for their audience) how empty both Chambers now are on a regular basis while “in session,” as the few members actually present talk to the C-SPAN camera, one after the other, instead of to each other. [The accountability-dodging reason(s) why that's the case are, I believe, in vital need of public exposure, before the many secretive and undemocratic Congressional practices now being overlooked or ignored by the national media can or will be reformed.]

    For similar reasons – assuming that you actually received them when submitted two weeks ago, which I have no way of knowing from your commenting software – I wish that my two comments to your 10/7 post about the underreported and misreported October 6th change in Senate precedent had been published here (or at least my second comment and link, if space is an issue). Because if you disagree with my analysis of the situation, it’d be helpful to know how or why you disagree, so that I could understand and publicly address any errors I may have made, and accurately explain the disturbing scene that took place that evening.

    • pow wow says:

      Unlike the comments I submitted on 10/10 (resubmitted 10/11), and 10/12, to your 10/7 ‘Nuclear Option’ post, I did not include an URL link in today’s comment. Perhaps that difference explains my earlier, apparently-disappeared comments (submitted using two different browsers) – of which I saw no evidence after submission, with or without “Your comment is awaiting moderation” attached, as today’s comment, by contrast, immediately appeared after submission.

      Assuming that the URL’s the problem (and to avoid leaving the mistaken impression that Michael is censoring comments), I will strip the URL from the two comments I’d posted, and try resubmitting them now under the 10/7 post, linking, for anyone interested, only through my name to the related diary that goes into much greater detail than my two procedure-focused comments.

      • admin says:

        My apologies to Mr. Pow Wow. Mr Stern almost certainly did not see your posts. The site automatically and mistakenly flagged your previous posts as spam. The system has identified over 900 spam and malicious posts since 10/17/2011, and prevented them from cluttering up the site with advertisements, malware, and valueless self-promotion by disreputable “Internet entrepreneurs.”

        Unfortunately, as with any automated system, there will be a small incidence of false positives. Worse, the system does automatically clear old “spam” content over time, so this site only has the spam content, at present, going back to 10/17. If you suspect this has happened again to your legitimate and valued posts in the future, please let us know and we can correct it. My apologies, it is a (rare) cost of ensuring that the site is not overrun by opportunist with no interest in the content, and no respect for your computer’s security.

        • admin says:

          There was most likely nothing objectionable in your content. A great number of malicious posts these days are simple praises on the merit of the site content. The malicious nature of the post involves the trackback URL provided along with the seemingly genuine compliment. In fact, these are automated posts, with randomly generated “authors”, and lead readers and Internet search engines alike to the URL provided with the false posts. I hope this might help explain how your posts suffered this misclassification.

          • pow wow says:

            Thank you very much for the detailed explanations, admin. That information should help both me and others in future – especially first-time commenters – to understand both what might have gone wrong, and why, when submitted comments don’t appear. [I assumed that an automatic spam filter was one possibility for the missing comments, but didn't know that spam is automatically deleted after a certain point, or that even small sites receive such a significant volume of genuine - and now often seemingly-innocuous - spam over such a short period of time.]

            “If you suspect this has happened again to your legitimate and valued posts in the future, please let us know and we can correct it.”

            Will do. Thanks again.

  2. mstern says:

    Pow Wow- I am pretty sure that I did not receive your earlier comments.

    • pow wow says:

      Thanks, Michael. It seems pretty evident now that you almost certainly didn’t receive them (although your guess is as good as mine as to where those three submissions were sent after I pressed “Submit Comment”). I’ve just now successfully, if belatedly, submitted the two comments in question under your 10/7 “Did Reid Go Nuclear?” post, after taking the diary URL out of both comments. Right or wrong, I hope my detailed explanations will be of interest to you and/or others willing to get into the weeds of Senate process to try to assess the import of what transpired on October 6th, and how that day’s developments may impact the Senate in future.

      Thanks again for creating this superb blog.

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