The Ethics Committee of the National Press Club has asked me to present my journalistic credentials following the controversy of my suspension from the Club because of my questioning of the former head of Saudi intelligence Amb. Turki bin Faisal al-Saud. (See: Journalist Questions Legitimacy of Saudi Regime, Is Suspended from National Press Club)
The proof that I am a journalist is the very fact that I asked the question that I did.
It's a particularly critical question as the Saudi regime backs counter-revolutions and the Egyptian military attacks pro-democracy activists. It's a question that needed to be asked. And critically, it did draw a response, however disingenuous, from Amb. al-Saud. (He didn't respond to the Saudi role in curtailing democratic movements; he talked of how funds from the Saudi regime give it legitimacy -- effectively ignoring my "other than billions of dollars" -- and did not address domestic repression like torture.)
It's this question and other challenging questions of those in power that journalists need to be asking.
Journalism is in crisis and it must be reinvented for its own good and for the good of society as a whole. A substantial part of that re-invention is the capacity to ask tough questions of powerful officials. Being a journalist in essence isn't about "credentials" and professional affiliations. It's about the practice of it. Instead of supporting this, William McCarren, the executive director of the Press Club, who founded a press release distribution company, has made false statements about my journalistic integrity and has attempted to paint me in a false and negative light. As prominent journalists and other notables have learned about my suspension, I have received many heartening statements of support. Among them:
There's a serious question of double standards about when tough questioning is encouraged and when it is discourage or even prevented. For example, when Jörg Haider, the Austrian neo-Nazi was at the Press Club several years ago, I was allowed by Peter Hickman, the same moderator at the recent event, to ask several followups in a very similar, rigorous manner and gave me his congratulations. I've been unable to obtain a transcript or video of the event, but I recall being visibly angry when questioning him -- realizing I was talking to someone who, if he were ever to actually come to power, could commit unspeakable evil, and I was atleast as tough with him as I was with Amb. al-Saud. Real journalism is asking tough questions of all the players. Or, more appropriately, asking the toughest questions of the most powerful. Too often, I've seen reporters fawn over a figure more the more powerful they are. That I think is exactly the wrong instinct. We should have an open discussion of such issues. But while the Ethics Committee of the National Press Club asked to meet with me, it insisted the meeting be in private. No members of the public allowed. No other members of the Press Club allowed. No recording of the event allowed. There is a complaint against me, I have asked a copy of it, but have been told it is confidential. If I were to go to a meeting of the Ethics Committee, I'd be questioned about the complaint, but would apparently still not be able to actually see it. I cannot take part in such a meeting. As I indicated in my original piece, Mr. McCarren has in the past indicated to me that his concern about my tough questioning is that it causes some officials to go to other venues in D.C. I indicated to him and continue to believe that ultimately the response to this serious issue cannot possibly be to curtail asking tough questioning. Prominent officials go on Stephen Colbert's show because he uses humor to attract a mass audience even though he in effect ridicules these officials. I'm certainly not saying that the Press Club should resort to ridicule, parody and satire. I'm saying that there are solutions to the issue of access other than to go soft on officials. For example, there's a measure of prestige associated with an event at the Press Club and a key part of that should be that critical questions are asked here. Otherwise, it's a public relations event. I was also heartened by the statement of Let's Press Ahead -- a slate of young members promising reform in the upcoming Dec. 9 National Press Club elections:
The Ethics Committee, despite the secretive process, has an opportunity to rescind my suspension and issue an apology. Hopefully the members will do the right thing. Additional information on process, responding to charges and answering questions:
On the Day in Question I've been specifically asked by John Hughes, the chair of the National Press Club Ethics Committee, to address what happened on the day of the incident, Nov. 15, including in the hallway, as Mr. McCarren has claimed I was attempting to disrupt the news conference. This charge is false. Here are the facts: My question, at 37 seconds, was actually rather short -- shorter than the one that followed, for example. After I asked my question, Amb. Turki bin Faisal al-Saud replied, "Have you been to the Kingdom?"; rather than following this irrelevant distraction (one does not need to have visited Stalin's Soviet Union to know it was repressive, and Amb. al-Saud criticized Israel in his opening remarks, which he presumably has never visited) and I responded by restating my question: "What legitimacy does your regime have?" Mr. McCarren walked up to me, standing to face me, and said, "Put your question and let him answer, we have a whole room of people." I responded: "He [Amb. al-Saud] asked me a question. He asked me and I responded." During the beginning of Amb. al-Saud's reply to my question, Mr. McCarren continued speaking to me, telling me in a combative tone to let Amb. Al Saud answer the question. I told Mr. McCarren that I was simply responding to Amb. al-Saud's question to me. As Mr. McCarren continued in the same combative manner, I asked him, in a rather hushed tone "Are you threatening me?" He responded: "Absolutely." As should be obvious, I was not out to disrupt the news conference. I did not raise my voice or speak out of turn. I responded to questions from the speaker by successfully redirecting the exchange back to the original question. When my attempt to ask a follow-up question was cut off by the moderator, I yielded to the next questioner. If anyone was being disruptive at the news conference, it was Mr. McCarren, accosting and (according to him) threatening a journalist and member as I attempted to question a speaker according to the direction of the event's actual moderator. After the news conference, I had a further encounter with Mr. McCarren, which I described in my original account:
Looking back on it now, it's clear that Mr. McCarren was trying to get me away from the news conference not because I was shouting, but because he wanted to shout at me. His behavior suggests he was intent on provoking a verbal and possibly even physical confrontation, which was avoided because I de-escalated the situation. I believe he owes me an apology for accosting and his discourteous and unprofessional behavior. Viewing the evidence, I did not attempt to disrupt the news conference in any way. I asked a tough question and attempted to minimize my reaction to McCarren's numerous provocations and obstacles placed before me in fulfilling a journalistic role.
Again, why raise this if Communicator members have the same rights to ask questions as journalist members as Mr. Hughes states? But to answer directly: Mr. Hughes, while much more professional in tone, seems to have the same misunderstanding about my work at the Institute for Public Accuracy that Mr. McCarren has. IPA does not have "clients." We do not do consulting or even advocacy per se, though of course we give voice to advocates, as any media enterprise does. As stated on our webpage, we take no money from anyone for putting them on a news release. IPA is funded largely through foundations. In addition to my IPA work, I do some journalism work for various independent outlets, occasionally participating in talk radio program journalist round tables, writing for various webpages, my personal blog, and the washingtonstakeout.com project I founded. (Others may be interested: I have asked Mr. Hughes: "Can you tell me what the Press Club policy is about bloggers being journalist members?" and "Are any members who apply for membership as journalists declined who have Hill credentials?" But he has declined to answer, pointing me to the membership department, which I have not had time to engage) A serious examination of the IPA webpage -- accuracy.org -- would show a number of examples in which IPA was putting out critical information that time proved correct, quite often out-performing established commercial media outlets. For example, before the Iraq war, we put out material severely out of step with the prevailing conventional wisdom, news releases questioning Bush administration rationales for war, for example: "U.S. Credibility Problems" "Tough Questions for Bush on Iraq Tonight" "White House Claims: A Pattern of Deceit". Of course, most media didn't highlight that the Bush administration was falsifying the case against Iraq until it was too late. Fortunately, earlier this year, we had more success getting information out about Egypt. Shortly after the uprising started on Jan. 25, the Mubarak regime released criminals from prisons to rampage in neighborhoods to make it seems as though the uprising had turned violent. As that line was getting falsely echoed by media outlets, I called Philip Rizk, an independent documentary film maker I had met in Cairo a year earlier. He debunked the narrative and I featured him on a news release, writing "He is reporting on the Egyptian government apparently releasing criminals against protesters, looting, lack of police protection and other critical events." Rizk got on Al Jazeera English as a result, they began reporting his version of events as fact, and given their prominence at the time, that was adopted by most other media outlets. It's quite certain the truth would have gotten out eventually either way -- but the critical thing is for the truth to get out in time and thus to a wide audience. Thankfully, this time, it did. In terms of asking questions, I should note that lots of my questions have been asked at the luncheon events, where the Press Club president chooses questions submitted on cards. Just recently, Mr. Hamrick used a question of mine at the Ron Paul event. I'd asked whether, given that Ron Paul has stated that Presidents Bush and Obama have violated the Constitution on War Powers and other critical issues, why hasn't he proposed impeachment as would seem to be the proper constitutional remedy, since he talks frequently of fidelity to the Constitution. This is example is illustrative because Ron Paul is a candidate I personally have written somewhat favorably about, but that doesn't stop me from asking him a tough question, pointing out an apparent contradiction in what he has said. This further shows my functioning is fundamentally journalistic, not attempting to simply plug political figures I might happen to agree with on various issues. I've been published in numerous media outlets including the Washington Post, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, (opeds) the Nation, the Humanist, FAIR’s magazine Extra!, the Village Voice (analysis and investigative pieces), have produced reports for Independent World Television and have appeared on outlets including CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel.