Earlier this week, the Senate Rules Committee moved to restrict press access to senators on Capitol Hill. The new rule stated that any on-camera interviews taking place on the Hill would require permission from the senator in question, the Senate Rules Committee, the Senate sergeant at arms or the Senate radio and TV gallery depending on the location.
CONDITIONS for any interview: Previously granted permission from senator AND Rules Committee of Senate
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) June 13, 2017
Reports of the changes, circulated after the Senate Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby “unilaterally” made the decision (according to some reports), contradicted years of precedent that allowed press access to conduct hallway interviews with senators. These changes restrict the flow of information to the American people and are an attempt to limit press access – in the wake of increased tension between the Trump administration, the Republican party and the press. Moves like these should come as no surprise, as this is not the first time that the government has attempted to push back against the press.
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) June 13, 2017
The office of Senator Shelby later clarified the reports after major backlash from journalists and Senators alike, but the timing of this action is questionable. With the ruling coming in the midst of a troubling investigation into Russian interference in the election and tension between parties, is this another attack on the press?
President Trump has continually made efforts to discredit mainstream media by claiming that that major outlets such as CNN are fake news and has attempted to undermine the press through an onslaught of tweets, the coining of “alternative facts” and a constant barrage against reporters and the mainstream media.
But throughout the 2016 election and Trump’s presidency, it has become clear that the need for solid factual reporting is critical – especially when we see an increase in resistance against the press and a lack of cooperation on the administration’s end. Through good reporting and the efforts of the press, the American people have learned about the possible collusion by the Trump Campaign and Russia as well as the issues that lead to the hearing of former FBI Director Comey.
The flow of information is critical to American democracy and freedom of the press is critical in this age of alternative facts. Limiting access and reversing years of precedent on Capitol Hill that allow the press access to members of Congress can infringe on the flow of information to the American people. The limitation of access could be interpreted as an attempt to lessen the press’s ability to inform the American public and the state of American politics.
Given the context, this action can easily be seen as an attack against the press. The current administration has shown little respect to the media and has shown little transparency to the American people. With the growing tension in Washington, leaks of government information to various news outlets, and the extremely public investigation into Russian collusion in the election, it is a likely conclusion that the Senate Rules Committee was pushing back against the blitz of media coverage.
This attempt to limit access was unsuccessful, but the protection of press freedom is extremely important in this age of non-truths and alternative facts. Fighting attempts to limit press access is paramount for the success of the nation and the democratic process.
Correction: This article previously stated that Senator Shelby’s office officially announced the rule changes, rather than officially clarifying circulating reports of rule changes to press access in the Senate. We regret this error.