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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Critical Look at the "Mirengoff Miracle"

Ethan Wallison, Room 12A's proprietor, thinks I was played the fool by that "veteran GOP staffer" I quoted earlier this week regarding the signficance of what Wallison believes is coming to be known in the Blogosphere as the "Mirengoff Miracle."

Here's what I quoted from the GOP staffer:

"The mainstream news media that covers Congress is tightly controlled by the House and Senate press galleries and they would never be so aggressive in pressing a Member of Congress. So this was big, it was unprecedented to have a blogger asking such questions. We need more bloggers up here asking questions because they aren't controlled by the galleries."

Here's Ethan's key graph in response:

"Let's be clear: The press galleries have no control whatsoever -- nada, zip, zilch, zero -- over the substance of reporting by the accredited news media. The galleries issue credentials; they answer the phones; they help the press interact with the politicians (i.e. maintain the press theater). That's it. All of this is overseen by an elected committee of the journalists who are served. The thought of one of these galleries revoking the credentials or otherwise punishing an intemperate questioner is beyond the reach of absurdity. It is beyond metaphysics."

Ethan is right, of course, the House and Senate press galleries aren't censors and they have no control over what is reported or how it is reported. I think the point being made by my source, however, was that the galleries do control who is credentialled to cover Congress on a regular basis.

Having been a congressional reporter, I have some familiarity with the process. Essentially, the galleries control credentialling to insure that people posing as journalists don't get to sit at the press tables in committee hearing rooms and aren't afforded official access in other ways made possible by possession and display of a congressional press pass.

Control of the credentialling process also provides a means of preventing publications posing as genuine news outlets from receiving access and it prevents abuse of the credential for commercial purposes.

The truth is that on any given day on the Hill there are at best few bloggers covering committee hearings, interviewing Members of Congress and staffers or gathering background data and information from any of the many congressional administrative operations.

That means senators and representatives don't expect to encounter bloggers like Paul Mirengoff who don't approach reporting with the same set of operative assumptions as mainstream journalists, as demonstrated by his persistent questioning of Durbin and Kennedy.

How would the galleries react if large numbers of bloggers suddenly began applying for credentials? I think this would pose a number of serious problems for the credentialling committees because such applications would immediately embroil them in the controversy over whether bloggers are "real journalists."

In any case, Ethan's post is worth reading and I would be interested in hearing any reactions from other present or former journalists who have had experience with the congressional press galleries.