Ryan Benjamin Witte
By Ryan Benjamin Witte
In his piece, Witte argues web journalists should be permitted the same degree of access to public fora and facilities enjoyed by their print counterparts.
Throughout, Witte relies on the scholarship of David Anderson to explore the historical meaning of the First Amendment, as expressed in Anderson’s “Freedom of the Press.” Witte endorses the theory that the marketplace of ideas has been hobbled by the restricted pool of reporters permitted into the Press Gallery and other public places, noted by Thomas Kunkel and Gene Roberts in “Leaving Readers Behind.” Similarly, he draws on Wendy Zeligson, “Pool Coverage, Press Access, and Presidential Debates: What’s Wrong with This Picture?” Witte cites her critique of pooled coverage of presidential debates as the kind of “institutional bias” that would be corrected with increased access for online journalists. Ultimately, he agrees with Anderson that the “press has been, and is now more than ever, a fluid and dynamic institution,” which should be reflected in the rules that define membership.
Witte uses access to the Press Gallery to illustrate his points. He argues the rules defining permitted journalists should be rewritten, or at least administered, to avoid improper efforts to exclude competition. He rejects the line of cases descended from Consumers Union, which found the issue of press pool access nonjusticiable. Rather, courts should follow Sherrill and Getty, and avoid conditioning access upon unclear, arbitrary or impermissible factors. Witte notes a variety of hypotheticals that would fall afoul of the Press Gallery rules for insubstantial reasons (e.g. a Washington Post reporter, previously approved, launching her own web publication and losing access to the press pool). He also drafts a rewritten set of rules that correct the present pitfalls.