National Press Club, Journalism Institute denounce press limits on Senate trial

The National Press Club and its Journalism Institute strongly object to restrictions on press coverage during the Senate trial of President Donald Trump. The proposed limitations are onerous, unnecessary and serve only to limit the news media’s ability to properly report on this historic event to the American public.

We fully support the position taken by the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which tried to negotiate rules of coverage only to see its suggestions ignored.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has insisted that the Senate follow the same rules the Senate set for itself during the trial of President Bill Clinton 20 years ago. But when it comes to press coverage, the restrictions on news coverage planned by the Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police far exceed the access limits imposed during the Clinton trial. Indeed, the constraints are more restrictive than they are for State of the Union messages or Inauguration ceremonies.

“These constraints and security obstacles only impede the press from doing its job,” said National Press Club President Michael Freedman. “When the conduct of our elected officials is under the highest scrutiny, the government should not be restricting the ability of journalists to be eyes and ears for the American public.” 

As spelled out by the Standing Committee of Correspondents, the proposed restrictions on the press for the upcoming trial include:

  • Security sweeps with magnetometer inside the Senate press gallery
  • Penning in reporters outside the Senate chamber to prohibit them from freely getting access to Senators as they enter or leave the chamber.
  • A single pool camera to record the transmission of Articles of Impeachment from the House to the Senate.
  • Restrictions on reporters’ ability to walk and interview Senators from the Senate subway to the Capitol elevators.

“These restrictions set a horrible precedent and reinforce the lie that the news media is dangerous and the ‘enemy of the people,’” said Angela Greiling Keane, the president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute. “Congress should be the most accessible institution in government. As the branch closest to the people, it is ironic that these limits only isolate those who are elected to serve.”

While penning reporters has become commonplace over the years to improve traffic flow outside the Senate chamber, reporters have had free access to approach senators to question them about issues of the day. Sweeping reporters with a magnetometer as they enter the Senate gallery is simply unnecessary overkill as they would have already gone through security entering the Capitol.

We especially fear that these restrictions will become the new standard for congressional coverage, a slippery slope that will reduce accountability and further erode an essential tenet of our democracy — the need for an informed electorate.

The National Press Club, the world’s leading professional organization for journalists, represents more than 3,000 reporters, editors and professional communicators worldwide. The Club’s nonprofit affiliate, the National Press Club Journalism Institute, promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press, and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire civic engagement.

Press contact: Jim Kuhnhenn, NPCJI Press Freedom Fellow. [email protected]