I authorized my first Capitol Hill press conference the other day. I didn’t even know I could do that, and certainly didn’t have any plans to do it until the opportunity knocked.
I got a call from the office of Senator Byron Dorgan, that veteran critic of the broadcasting business, who was teaming with Senator Trent Lott to take aim at FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. I had written about Dorgan’s initial surprise to learn that the Chairman wanted to put some git-along in the media ownership review process after several years.
Dorgan and the also unhappy Lott had scheduled time in the Radio and TV gallery of the Senate to hold a press conference to decry the timetable, but they needed a member of the press to invite them and would I be the member. This press conference was in the Senate side of the Capitol, yet they had to get the OK from me. It was a puzzlement.
The request caught me off guard, and I had to think for a minute as to whether that made me part of the story–I decided it didn’t. Then I had to decide whether or not I was even authorized, since I am a member of the periodical press gallery, not the Radio-TV Gallery, but I figured they knew what they were doing.
I looked up the rules of the gallery, and sure enough, it said the following, specifically in Section 6B of the general rules for use of the Senate Radio-Television Gallery:
"Members of Congress (except the Speaker of the House, the House Majority and Minority Leaders, the Vice President, and
Senate Majority and Minority Leaders) must be invited to appear in the House and Senate Gallery studios. Appearances on the
House side must be at the invitation of a member of the Radio-Television Galleries. Appearances on the Senate side may beat the invitation of any member of any Congressional News Gallery. Members of the Galleries who issue invitations should bepresent in the Galleries during interviews."
Well, that last line was one way to make sure I showed up at the press conference, though I would have anyway.
I made the call, and as Pig Pen said about that cloud of dust that might have been trod upon by a Caesar or Alexander the Great, it kind of made me want to treat myself with a little more respect, but only a little.
My first press conference was pretty news free since both had already made it crystal clear they opposed a December vote on media ownership rules, a point they simply made a tad more forcefully in the press conference. But I did get to ask the first question, which made me feel a little like Helen Thomas.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.