This is the first time that I wish I was still part of the Capitol press corps.
The Missouri Senate, once a collegial bunch that had a Senate press officer and then a Senate information office, now has a Senate information office that presumably works for all members of the Senate AND it has separate “communications directors” for the Republicans and the Democrats.
The Communications Director for the Senate Majority Caucus put out a memo to the press corps the day before the legislative session began that “many senators” do not want to be interviewed about what they have just said or done right after the senate adjourns for the day. Reporters are now being told to contact the communications directors for the R’s or the D’s and tell them who they want to interview “so we can alert the senator beforehand.” The Senator can then decide whether to do the interview on the senate floor after adjournment or in a couple of other places. “Please do not try to catch them on the floor without letting someone know first,” says the memo.
This person is a nice person with whom we got along nicely in our days at the senate press table.
But letting a senator know ahead of time a reporter wants to interview them? When they’re right in front of us? Working through a senate bureaucracy to interview someone who has had no reluctance to do or say something in front of everybody in the room, often just minutes earlier?
I’m standing right there, a respectful few feet away while they gather their papers or have a few comments with a colleague. Who needs some partisan functionary to tell them a reporter wants to ask a question? “Many senators” feel that way? How many? Who? We’ve had senators tells us, “Let’s go to my office,” and we’ve gone.
Oooooooh, I wish I could be there just so I could walk up to some senator right after adjournment and ask a question, as has been the practice. Let someone know first? Forget that. They were there. I was there. You just did something or said something in a public forum and you’re accountable. What are you up to?
The press corps has had its fill of managed access from the Nixon administration. Now it’s spreading to the senate.
Sorry, senators. Accountability shouldn’t have to wait. You’re a grownup and you don’t need somebody running interference for you and give you an easy opportunity to tell the partisan roadblock, “I don’t want to talk about what I’ve just done or said.” And the roadblock goes back to the waiting reporter and says, “Sorry.”
The leader of the senate has nursed a grudge for months and months because a member of the press sitting at the press table on the Senate floor heard a couple of senators discussing something about a bill and tweeted it. So he has decided the press should be booted out of the press table on the senate floor and exiled to a side gallery one floor above. When that issue was put before the senate for approval, senators were told that the senate staff needed to use the table—a further tribute to the lost ability of senators to write their own amendments, perhaps. The senate leader admitted his real motivation later.
Significantly, the press is being thrown out of the senate because, as we understand it, one reporter broke an unwritten senate rule by reporting something a couple of senators believed they were talking about in confidence. But the Senate is doing nothing to keep members from getting text messages on their cell phones from lobbyists in the halls who often tell them how to answer questions or what their positions should be during discussions of bills. Reporters are not welcome physically in the senate chamber. But the virtual presence of special interests gets a pass.
The session is beginning with pettiness and fertilizer in the state senate.
“It should be another exciting year,” says the memo to the press about not talking to senators. It sure would be if this reporter was still at the senate press table.