Lawsuit charges deliberate attempt to exclude media outlet
Posted: April 13, 2010
U.S. President Barack Obama attends the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington
A lawsuit has been filed in Washington accusing the White House Correspondents’ Association of doing the bidding of the Obama administration in trying to belittle, exclude and irreparably harm a leading Internet news outlet, WorldNetDaily, which has carried commentary critical of the president.
The dispute arose over WND’s request – and payment – for three tables at the association’s annual banquet in Washington, which has been described as being to the news industry what the Academy Awards are to Hollywood.
“It … is the most prestigious event of the year in Washington, D.C. … It thus enhances a news outlet’s prestige to rent tables at and attend the event and is a must to maintain a news outlet’s, such as WND’s, reputation,” the complaint explains.
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“News outlets who do not get sufficient access to the event are seen as ‘lesser’ and unimportant in the media world,” it continues.
But the association then notified WND it would be able to use only three seats at this year’s event, which is scheduled for May 1 and features entertainer Jay Leno as a speaker.
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The lawsuit explains that during past administrations, WND has been given access to at least one table for its personnel and guests.
“However, it has been largely excluded from the event during the tenure of the Obama administration. This year, for instance, WND was among the first to order tables at the event and it ordered three tables. WND was led to believe by the WHCA that it would get three tables. WND needed three tables in order to bring its personnel and distinguished guests to the event, as this was the anniversary of Les Kinsolving’s tenure as a distinguished White House correspondent, and his daughter, Kathleen Kinsolving Willmann, has just written a book about his career, entitled ‘Gadfly.’ The three tables were thus necessary to celebrate the occasion and because WND has become over the years a major publication,” the complaint states.
“This year, in anticipation of the event, which will take place on May 1, 2010, WND tendered $6,750 USD for three tables. However, the WHCA cashed only one of the checks, number 13662, for one table. … The amount of the check is $2,250.00 USD. Accordingly, WHCA accepted WND’s offer to buy at least one table for the event.”
The complaint explains WND also was “led to believe” it would get the two additional tables for which it submitted payment, and “WND invited guests … for three tables.”
“On information and belief, after the WHCA accepted WND’s order for one table for the event, the Obama administration and White House intervened and put pressure on the WHCA to reneg on even this commitment. As a result, and in an insulting manner, WND was then informed that it would only get three seats at the event, and not even its own table,” the complaint continues.
“Obviously, this harmed and continues to harm WND’s ability to celebrate not only the anniversary of Les Kinsolving and the publication of his daughter’s new book, but also harms WND’s access to White House reporting and its reputation generally, as it is being treated as a ‘black sheep’ in the media world,” said the complaint, filed by Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, on behalf of WND.
He confirmed service of the lawsuit was accepted by George Lehner of the law firm of Pepper Hamilton.
The complaint also cited the Obama administration’s previous attempt to retaliate against a news organization.
“For instance, Fox News, which has also been critical of the Obama administration, and which the White House also fears and loathes, was subject to a boycott [from the White House],” the complaint said.
“Thus, what is apparently a political ‘hit’ on WND takes on great credibility in the world of Washington politics,” the complaint states.
A commentary by Kelly Boggs at Baptist Press outlined the Fox incident from Oct. 22, 2009.
“White House officials tried to bar Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett from a press pool event. The administration was making Executive Pay Czar Kenneth Feinberg available for interviews, and Fox was told that while other members of the pool would have access to Feinberg, it would not be allowed to participate,” he wrote.
In that case, the other four members of the pool, ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, “told the White House that if Fox was not allowed to participate then none of them would participate…”
The report confirmed “the White House relented and Fox News was allowed to participate.”
The White House has expressed the opinion at the time that it did not consider Fox a “news” organization.
“While the White House is certainly entitled to its opinion concerning Fox News, it is not entitled to selectively apply the Constitution – especially the freedom of the press,” wrote Boggs. “Of the five networks that make up the White House press pool, Fox News has by far the most conservative editorial content. As a result, the White House is under constant scrutiny and criticism by the hosts of editorial programs like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. On the news front, Fox News tries as hard has any news organization to report the facts of every situation or event, seeking to live up to another of its catch phrases, ‘We report, you decide,'” Boggs wrote.
He explained there are differences between a news report and the commentary articles that express opinion and contain criticism.
WND, launched in 1997, is one of the oldest Internet publications and reports on a wide variety of news events to a readership estimated at eight million.
The lawsuit contends, “Most of the officers and directors of the WHCA are of a liberal bent and feel great kinship with the Obama administration and are thus prone to do its bidding.”
The complaint seeks specific performance of the contract that resulted when the association took the payment from WND, and “actual and compensatory damages in excess of $10 million USD for harm to its business and other relationships.”
Ed Chen, president of the correspondent’s organization, earlier told a WND reporter asking about the allocation of seats, “Well, basically a number of factors go into this. The demand has never been greater and almost nobody, individual or organization, can get more than what they had last year.”
But he then got upset about the fact WND was reporting on the conflict and hung up on a reporter.
Today, the association in response to a WND request for comment, directed WND to submit an e-mail request. But the subsequent e-mail did not generate a response.
Joseph Farah, founder and CEO of WND, said, “We’re one of the fastest growing news organizations in the country, while most of our competitors are shrinking. Yet, many of them are getting up six, seven, eight tables. On what basis are those decisions made? Has it occurred to Mr. Chen and his colleagues playing favorites like this and making up the rules as they go along is dangerous business and highly discriminatory?”
He continued, “This is not just a major social function. It’s a news event. Why is the White House press corps playing the role of palace guard here? What standards are they using to make fair and equitable decisions about who they allow in their party? Is this the new closed country club mentality of the 21st century?”
“We’ve been through this kind of treatment by the Washington press corps in the past,” said Farah. “We’ve grown to expect it, despite the fact that we are the oldest independent online news source on the Net, despite the fact that our White House press correspondent is the third most veteran member of those covering the White House and despite the fact that we always play by the rules.”
Farah said the White House press corps and the correspondents association have shown nothing but antipathy for New Media enterprises like WND in general and even more disdain for those who subscribe to the traditional role of the American press as a vigorous watchdog on government.
Dating back to February 2002, WND was denied accreditation to the Senate Press Gallery for routine access to cover the Capitol. Ten days after WND threatened legal action against individual members of the Senate Press Gallery, WND was granted accreditation in September 2002.
This year, WND planned to debut a book about its White House press correspondent, Kinsolving. Kinsolving has served as a White House press correspondent since the Nixon administration, but, as Farah explains, is still treated with “disdain and contempt” by his colleagues and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs – frequently being snubbed for questions while other correspondents are given multiple opportunities to grill him.
“This is an illustration of what some call the ‘government-media complex’ or the ‘state-sponsored media,'” says Farah. “It’s one thing when you have to battle government secrecy and corruption, which we expect to do as part of our jobs as newsmen. It’s another thing when you have to battle your own colleagues who act like self-appointed press cops, blocking independent media from doing the job they refuse to do.”
The correspondents’ group explains on its website that it “represents the White House press corps in its dealings with the administration on coverage-related issues.”
An elected board of directors addresses issues of access to the president, work space arrangements, logistics and costs for press travel to travel with the president.
Listed on the website as board members are Doug Mills of the New York Times, Steve Scully of C-SPAN, Don Gonyea of National Public Radio, Julie Mason of the DC Examiner and Caren Bohan of Reuters.