|NMU||WASHINGTON, D.C.||Newsgathering||Aug 8, 2002|
Senate official, journalists hammer out gallery chief arrangements
- Reporters covering the Senate feared that Sergeant-at-Arms Alfonso Lenhardt planned to skirt the longstanding tradition of allowing journalists to pick the director of the Senate Press Gallery.
Journalists covering the Senate recently worked out a tentative agreement with the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms concerning the next director of the Senate Press Gallery after weeks of disagreement over who picks candidates for the position.
As part of the agreement, the Standing Committee of Correspondents retains its longstanding tradition of selecting a person for the position. Alfonso Lenhardt, the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms, may accept or reject the candidate. If Lenhardt rejects the candidate, the journalists would have to offer another one.
The agreement ended weeks of debate between the committee, which represents the nearly 1,800 daily print reporters accredited to cover the Senate, and Lenhardt, a former U.S. Army major general who reports to Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.).
After former gallery director Bob Petersen resigned the post earlier this year, Lenhardt told the journalists that he must choose the next director because of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, which requires him to ensure that the hiring of gallery employees complies with federal employment laws.
The committee appealed to both Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, to respect the longstanding tradition.
Journalists covering the Senate first took over the credentials process in 1881 to insulate coverage of the chambers from political interference. In 1916, the Senate Rules Committee gave the Standing Committee of Correspondents the right to designate press gallery employees.
But the journalists said Lenhardt’s insistence that he alone hire the gallery director threatens independent press coverage of the Senate.
In a draft agreement dated July 30, Lenhardt stated that he agreed that the journalists enjoyed and should continue to enjoy its tradition of selecting the press gallery director. But he noted that, as sergeant-of-arms, he must ensure that the hiring of the director satisfies federal employment laws.
The agreement now awaits approval of the full Standing Committee of Correspondents.
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press