Republican U.S. senators are not only resisting calling witnesses at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. They also want to put onerous restrictions on those who bear witness — reporters who will be on hand to cover this consequential constitutional moment.
Newly imposed rules for reporters covering the trial buck the longstanding practice of allowing senators and their aides to be questioned about the public’s business. Working journalists are cordoned off in roped-off pens, which allows senators to more easily dodge questions the news media has a right — indeed, a responsibility — to ask.
In just one example of how ridiculous the rules are, McClatchy reporter Emma Dumain described on Twitter how she was interviewing a senator last week only to be interrupted by a police officer who insisted that she “step behind the rope in order to continue the conversation.”
Senators should ensure that America reclaims its role as a beacon of media freedom, not cower from questions by making it more difficult for reporters to do their jobs.
The new rules “are clearly a violation of press freedom in this country,” Dokhi Fassihian, executive director of Reporters Without Borders USA, told an editorial writer. While expressing some guarded optimism that some senators (including a few Republicans) who are pushing back against the rules will prevail, Fassihian said that in general “it’s very worrisome because what we’re seeing is the press continually being restricted and distanced from decisionmakers in this country, so this is just an additional action during what is an incredibly important time in our history.”
Reporters Without Borders isn’t the only media organization speaking out. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in partnership with 57 media organizations, wrote to the Senate majority and minority leaders opposing any new rules on reporters that “will impair their ability to cover the impeachment trial proceedings, which are of abiding interest to Americans from across the political spectrum.”
That last point is key: Supporters and defenders of the president should demand maximum transparency during the impeachment process.
After all, it’s not just the president, but our constitutional system — including the First Amendment — that’s on trial.