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Journalism Educators Bar C-SPAN Cameras

We know some Supreme Court Justices are skittish about cameras (Antonin Scalia comes to mind), but Supreme Court reporters?

According to C-SPAN, it was required by conference organizers to remove its cameras from a panel session with those reporters -- at a meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Washington, D.C., Thursday -- when New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse objected.

While C-SPAN said it was perplexed by Greenhouse's reluctance, it was even more worried about journalism educators excluding their cameras. “If professors of journalism and working journalists taking part in a journalism education conference don’t stand up for open media access to public-policy discussions, who will?” a top C-SPAN executive said in a letter to the AEJMC and the panelists.

Greenhouse told B&C she did not refuse to participate, but instead told organizers that if C-SPAN covered it, it would not be the same full and frank discussion she would be able to have if the cameras were not there.

"The whole format of the thing was that we were told not to prepare anything and that it would all be Q&A," she said. "So, of course, I did not know what the questions would be and, of course, whatever they were, I wanted to be able to answer them as fully and frankly as I could. I'm sure you can understand the difference between a classroom-size group of academics and 300 million people. And I just didn't feel like it was something I was obliged to do."

She added that there turned out not to be any particularly probing questions, "but I didn't know that at the time."

"I didn't say that I wouldn't do it," Greenhouse told B&C from the Supreme Court press room Friday. "What I said to the organizer [Professor Amy Gadja] was that nobody had told me this was the nature of the event, and I didn't feel it would be as candid and fruitful a conversation with the cameras rolling."

Greenhouse says she then "sat down and read my paper and let her figure it out. And that's the choice that she made."

AEJMC barred the C-SPAN crew, said the public-affairs cable network, which was not happy. C-SPAN -- which has been pushing the Supremes to open their appearances to TV cameras -- immediately complained to organizers in a letter.

Programming vice president Terrence Murphy had the following hand-delivered to the conference's organizer at the Renaissance Washington Hotel Thursday:

"This morning, after working with AEJMC on event logistics for many days, C-SPAN cameras were shut out of a panel discussion entitled ‘Covering the Court’ just a few minutes before the session began. The session moderator, Prof. Amy Gadja, told our production-crew chief our cameras had to be turned off because one panel participant, Linda Greenhouse, Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, did not want her remarks covered by C-SPAN.”

The network continued, “I must say, it’s perplexing as to why Ms. Greenhouse didn’t want to permit C-SPAN to cover her remarks, since our program archive lists 51 different events where we’ve covered her over the years. But the larger concern is why AEJMC organizers allowed Ms. Greenhouse’s view to prevail. If professors of journalism and working journalists taking part in a journalism education conference don’t stand up for open media access to public-policy discussions, who will?”

It concluded, “We look forward to hearing from you that your organization shares our concern and agrees that it was inappropriate for C-SPAN cameras to be turned away from this event."

Greenhouse had a response for C-SPAN, which she read to B&C.

"Dear Terry: Your letter concerning yesterday's panel discussion at the journalism educators’ convention misses the point. The question here is not one of ‘open media access to public-policy discussions,’ as you put it -- it is one of communications and simple courtesy. Since you chose to send copies to my fellow panelists, as well as the organizers of the program, I will do the same.”

The letter continued, "You claim to have spent days arranging C-SPAN coverage of the event. That may be so, but it is irrelevant to the question raised in your letter. I learned about the plan to cover the Supreme Court panel only when I showed up and saw the cameras. Professor Gayda told me she had only learned at 5 p.m. the day before that C-SPAN intended to cover our panel. Some months ago, when I accepted the invitation to speak to a roomful of journalists and professors, no one said anything about a nationally televised event.”

It went on, "There is a difference between appearing before a room of 50 or so professors and speaking in front of national television. I'm sure you recognize this. I did not agree to do the latter and, notwithstanding my willingness, as you know, to appear on C-SPAN dozens of times in the past, whether to do so remains, it seems to me, a matter in which I still have a say. I am neither a C-SPAN employee nor a public official. My past voluntary appearances do not give C-SPAN rights in perpetuity to broadcast events in which I appear whether I agree or not. In fact, you may or may not be aware that over the years, I have from time to time declined to appear at events that I had assumed were to be private when at the last minute I was informed that C-SPAN coverage was a fait accompli.”

The letter concluded, "In the future, I will continue to be receptive to invitations to appear on excellent C-SPAN programs such as American Journal and at other events that C-SPAN arranges to cover. However, I think it is incumbent on C-SPAN and program organizers to do their homework by ensuring that participants understand, either at the time the invitation is extended or sufficiently in advance of the event to afford them the meaningful opportunity to gracefully opt out … There is a difference between being invited and commandeered."

AEJMC executive director Jennifer McGill, to whom Murphy’s letter was directed, could not be reached at press time, but Dan Trigoboff, an association member and professor at Elon University in North Carolina who has covered law, commented:. "The idea that a reporter would take the position that opening access to the press inhibits expression worries and upsets me."  (Trigoboff is also former B&C editor.)

Greenhouse added that had she known from the outset that C-SPAN was part of the equation, she probably would have said yes: "Had I been told at the time I was invited that this was going to be a nationally televised event, I probably would have said, ‘Fine.’" But she also said: "The fact that I have been on C-SPAN 51 times in the past doesn't mean I am obliged to be on C-SPAN anytime they show up where I am."