The right-wing website Gateway Pundit was denied a congressional press pass from the Senate Periodical Press Executive Committee on Tuesday, and now plans to appeal the decision to Speaker Paul Ryan.
The committee upheld its previous denial of Gateway Pundit’s application for a press pass, which gives the holder access to certain areas of the Capitol otherwise sealed off from the public like the press galleries and the Speaker’s lobby. A Congressional press pass is also seen as a precursor for permanent press passes around Washington including at the White House and Supreme Court.
In its letter to Gateway Pundit, the committee wrote that Gateway Pundit does not meet the rules set out for press credentials, specifically that it does not "regularly publish a substantial volume of news material" because it mostly aggregates news from other sources; and that founder Jim Hoft identifies himself as an activist when no credentialed outlet is allowed to "engage, directly or indirectly, in any lobbying or other activity intended to influence any matter before Congress" or any agency or department of the Executive branch.
"Descriptions of activism were removed from your online profiles only after gallery staff informed you that your self-described role may be inconsistent with the requirements of Rule Two. Given your role as founder and editor of Gateway Pundit, the statements raise concerns about the focus of the site on activism instead of journalism," wrote the committee, which is made up of seven working journalists including POLITICO’s Anna Palmer.
Now, Gateway Pundit’s attorney said it plans to appeal the rejection to Ryan, whose office, along with the Senate Rules Committee, has ultimate "direction and control" of press credentials. But history suggests neither Ryan or the Rules Committee will get involved. In most cases when news outlets have appealed the various gallery committee decisions, neither the Speaker nor the Rules Committee have gotten involved.
The committee said in its letter to Gateway Pundit that its decision has no political motivations. It invited Gateway Pundit to resubmit an application and said the rejection "should not be seen as a permanent bar on the organization." Should the site start to publish more original reporting and assuage concerns about the activism aspects of the operation, their application may be approved.
Leo Shane, chairman of the committee and Capitol Hill bureau chief for the Military Times, said that there has been no time in recent history that the speaker or the Senate Rules Committee has overruled the committee of correspondents.
"The idea of having the committee was to let the press interpret the rules and [to] credential news organizations," Shane said. "The upwards appeal to them is if we were acting irresponsibility, but they haven’t shown any interest in the past of getting involved and have shown trust in the committee."
Gateway Pundit made waves earlier this year when it named a White House correspondent and began sending reporters to the White House briefing rooms by obtaining temporary credentials. Though the move was interpreted by some as the White House implicitly approving of the outlet, nearly anyone who claims to be a journalist can be granted a temporary White House press pass.
Gateway Pundit’s lawyer on this case, first amendment lawyer and journalism professor Charles Glasser, took issue with the appropriateness of having a committee decide what constitutes a proper news organization.
"As a First Amendment advocate, I am still very troubled by the admittedly ‘subjective’ decision of who is a mere aggregator and who is doing a summary or reaction story," Glasser said. "That is a very dangerous road to go down, and any journalist ought to be concerned about any quasi-government body making decisions on what is and isn’t valid journalism. People can cast Gateway Pundit as ‘right-wing conspiracy nuts’ but that misses the larger and more important point. Today it’s Gateway Pundit, tomorrow it’s Huffington Post, or Bloomberg First Word."