Gazette opinion: Senate restrictions are an insult to First Amendment – KPVI News 6

Posted: January 25, 2020 at 1:52 pm

How hard must you have to work to get an angry reaction from C-SPAN?

You know, the network known for showing empty Congressional chambers and playing the full length of any rambling diatribe from a member of Congress?

But, the United States Senate has the honor of cheesing off the only network that has no visible talking heads.

C-SPAN joins scores of other journalists who are protesting rules that curtail access to the United States Senates as it embarks upon the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.

We should note that these restrictions are greater than those imposed during President Bill Clinton's impeachment and even more restrictive than those during the annual State of the Union speech in which the President, the United States Supreme Court, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Cabinet are there.

All citizens should be concerned about access to Congress, not just journalists. We deserve the greatest amount of transparency in Congress, not less.

The Senate bills itself as "the world's greatest deliberative body."

But you wouldn't know it.

No, we mean that seriously.

You wouldn't know that because Senate leadership has cut off access point for journalists and even directed that C-SPAN, which will show the entire impeachment process, be limited to government-run cameras, meaning that the United States Senate will be at the controls of what will be shown to the American public and what will be left out.

Congressional members have for decades been subject to reporters waiting outside chambers for interviews. In fact, the practice has allowed America unprecedented access to the Senate and House members. It's a good practice for politicians who might rather duck reports and dodge interviews. Reporters -- and the accountability they provide -- become unavoidable for members of Congress. It means sooner or later a politician must answer tough questions.

The Senate has said that these rules will be temporary because Senators will not just be Senators, but also jurors during the impeachment trial. And jurors should not discuss a trial.

It's odd how Senate leadership has seemed to want it both ways. Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have said they'll work in concert with the White House to dismiss the articles of impeachment because they're a sham. Yet, when it comes time to have the trial, as the Constitution mandates, they can't even be asked questions.

This seems to us a great example of having it both ways. Either the trial is a sham, or they have to be impartial, open-minded jurors. Unfortunately, we believe the truth is much more sinister: Senate Republicans have become absolutely exhausted answering questions about a rogue administration. And nothing is quite as feckless as defending the indefensible.

Despite Trump's insistence that his call to Ukraine was "perfect," the indisputable facts remain that he asked a foreign government to spy on an American citizen while holding up much needed funding.

Far from perfect, and also far from defensible.

We continue to see to leaders distance themselves from voters and accountability. It has been almost a year since the White House discontinued its practice of daily press briefings. Now, Senators cannot even be approached.

Regardless of political stance, this is dangerous and new territory for our democracy. Accountability has always gone hand in hand with accessibility. We cannot get answers if politicians will not speak, or will only communicate through a handful of clever, well-polished, and measured press releases, issued by a staff member to ensure our elected leaders will never be blamed for anything.

We join with the organizations who have lodged complaints with the Senate leadership, including the Society of Professional Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

We'd like to know from both of our Senators, Jon Tester and Steve Daines why cutting off access is acceptable. After all, no one forced these men to run for office; surely, they knew that answering questions from a throng of reporters went along with the job description.

If our own Senators cannot be accessible to the people, how do they reasonably assume folks back here in Montana can trust them?

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Gazette opinion: Senate restrictions are an insult to First Amendment - KPVI News 6

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