White House denies press access to Iowa student media

Student journalists at three Iowacolleges claim they were the only media organizations denied access to PresidentGeorge W. Bush’s speech in Des Moines on April 15.

The journalistsspeculated that they were left out because they were students, but a White Housespokeswoman said space constraints were the most likely cause.

“Sometimeswe have limited space and are unable to accommodate every outlet that wants tobe there,” said Maria Tamburri, a spokeswoman for the White House press office.She said in those cases, a local pool provides shared coverage of theevents.

Tamburri said that because she was not at the event, she couldnot comment on why student journalists were the only ones notadmitted.

Mike Allsup, a reporter for a Des Moines Area Community Collegestudent newspaper, said he faxed information for press credentials to the WhiteHouse press office three hours before the deadline and in return received a faxwith the schedule and information on how to get in to the event.

EricRowley, a photographer and photo editor for the Iowa State Daily, astudent newspaper at Iowa State University, said he and a reporter went to theevent expecting to cover it. Rowley said he turned in the application for presscredentials before the deadline.

Allsup said that upon arriving at thehotel where the president spoke, he was told that the DMACC Chronicle wasnot on the list of media organizations allowed to enter the event. Allsup saidhe was told by one of the president’s media coordinators that the collegejournalists should have stayed in school.

Rowley said that initially,four media organizations, including the newspapers from DMACC, Iowa StateUniversity and the University of Iowa, were kept out of the event, but thefourth, a television crew from the Quad Cities, did gain entrance.

ScottRank, the reporter that accompanied Rowley to the event, said that a Bush staffmember asked each of the student journalists if they were with collegenewspapers before turning them away.

“On one hand, I can understand thatwhen you’re pressed for space, you would rather get rid of the Iowa StateDaily than the Des Moines Register,” Rank said. “But on the otherhand, I find it ironic that a campaign trying desperately to reach out to youngvoters cut out the student newspapers first.”

“Sometimes I think thatstudent publications cover student issues better than another outlet could,”Rowley said. “I don’t consider myself any different from any other photographer;I hold myself to the same professionalism that they do. I take my work asseriously as anyone else does.”

SPLC View: This is not the first, nor dowe suspect it will be the last, time student media have had to fight for theirrights – and for respect – in situations such as this. Government agencies dohave some leeway in establishing criteria for doling out news media credentials.Where space at an event is limited, the size of a news media organization’sreadership or audience, when neutrally enforced, may be a legally valid factorto consider. A blanket ban on student media, however, is unacceptable.Commercial media do not have greater free speech rights than student mediasimply because they are “professionals.” The statement alleged to have been madeby a White House media coordinator that college journalists should have “stayedin school” is both insulting potentially illegal. Whether a student newsorganization is dealing with a local police chief or the President of the UnitedStates, journalists owe it to their readers to contest such attitudes andactions.