You've heard of "banned in Boston?" But did you ever hear of being banned from the U.S. Capitol by Al-Jazeera? That's what's happened to me.
Early last Spring, I applied to the Congressional Radio-Television Galleries for a congressional pass. As I explained to their Executive Committee, the reason was straightforward. I have reported on Capitol Hill since I came to Washington as co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" in 1996. I now report on what's happening in Congress, three hours a day, from our studio on Capitol Hill. Almost every day, I welcome members of Congress and Senators as guests on my show, either by phone or in studio. I also attend the briefings with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and record a daily White House Report for radio stations across the country served by Dial-Global Radio Networks. And Dial-Global wanted me to provide similar reports from the U.S. Capitol.
Straight-forward enough? Not for members of the congressional press corps. In a letter dated December 8, Newshour's Linda Scott informed me the Executive Committee had voted "almost unanimously" to deny my application. The reason? Language that appeared on my website, billpressshow.com, on October 28: "Senator Joe Lieberman said he will vote against Harry Reid's proposed health reform bill that includes a public plan option. Call Senator Lieberman's office and tell him he's wrong to do so, and should vote FOR it."
Expressing an opinion, in other words, even on a website, disqualifies me from receiving a congressional press pass. That's their rule, they said, and there are no exceptions.
Oh, no? Then perhaps the Executive Committee could explain:
1. Why did my friend and co-host Bob Novak enjoy a congressional pass for decades, while writing a twice-weekly opinion column for The Washington Post?
2. Why are congressional passes held today by The Washington Times, Huffington Post, Fox News, The Nation, Pacifica Radio or, for that matter, even The New York Times?
3. Among the 173 other news organizations now holding congressional credentials are: Egyptian TV, Russia Today Television, Caracol TV, Catalunya Radio, Venezuela TV and Sagamatha Television. Who monitors them daily to make sure no opinion is expressed?
The ultimate irony resides in the membership of the Executive Committee itself. Sitting on the committee, most of whom voted against me, were correspondents from Fox News, Salem Radio Networks (syndicator of Hugh Hewitt, Bill Bennett, and Michael Medved), C-Span, CBS News, WTOP Radio, Newshour, and Al Jazeera - no representative of whom, of course, has ever been known to express an opinion about legislation pending in Congress.
Irony? No, that's sheer hypocrisy. And a sad day when Al Jazeera gets to vote on which American journalists get to cover the United States Congress.