It has become clear that the Democratic establishment does not have as much of an interest in press freedom as they would have the public believe. But what is even more telling is the media's spotty response to censorship efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Wednesday, House Natural Resouces Democrats rejected an amendment that would ensure press transparency in the Gulf. The amendment came mere days after the Coast Guard rescinded a policy keeping journalists at least 65 feet from "essential recovery efforts."
Offered by Rep. Paul Broun, pictured right, the amendment stated: "Except in cases of imminent harm to human life, federal officials shall allow free and open access to the media of oil spill clean up activity occurring on public lands or public shorelines, including the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”
Since the amendment's defeat, the response from the mainstream press has been a deafening silence.
Democrats ruled it was not germane to the legislation at hand, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act. That might seem like a plausible explanation for Democrats' rejection of the Broun amendment, but as the Washington Examiner's Mark Hemingway noted, there was a "wide array of items being attached to the bill that are of no particular relevance to the gulf oil spill."
In fact, Republicans offered an amendment specifically designed to remove provisons they called "unrelated to offshore drilling and the Gulf oil spill response or require additional information and facts from multiple ongoing investigations."
These items include a $150 million annual authorization for the next 30 years for the Historic Preservation Fund, which provides grants to states and localities to preserve historic landmarks.
Other items, according to a Committee statement, include
Renewable Energy. An entire section of this bill is exclusively dedicated to onshore renewable energy. Wind turbines and solar panels hundreds of miles away from the Gulf have absolutely nothing to do with a leaking deepwater oil well that is 5,000 feet under the ocean floor.
Onshore Energy Development. Rather than just focusing on offshore drilling, the bill makes numerous changes to onshore energy development. These policies will do nothing to help clean up the Gulf, but will seriously impact onshore American energy production leading to higher energy prices and lost jobs.
Aquaculture. The bill restricts the ability of the Secretary of Commerce and Regional Fishery Management Councils from developing or approving any fishery management plan that permits or regulates offshore aquaculture. In addition, it would nullify any permit for offshore aquaculture already granted by the Secretary. Not only is this unrelated to the oil spill, but could lead to further job loss in the Gulf and potentially hinder fishery restoration activities.
Uranium Leasing. The bill amends the Mineral Leasing Act to make uranium a leasable mineral, subject to rental and royalty rates. Creating a new uranium leasing program will not help respond to the crisis in the Gulf, but will make uranium, which is used to produce carbon-free nuclear energy, more expensive and difficult to mine.
Wildlife Sustainability. A provision in this bill calls for the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to help maintain sustainable populations of native and desire non-native plants and animals on lands under their jurisdiction. Managing onshore federal lands for wildlife has nothing to do with offshore drilling or Gulf Coast restoration.
"Looking at the number of largely unrelated items that are actually in the bill," wrote the Wasington Examiner's Mark Hemingway,
it’s hard to see the rejection of Broun’s amendment as anything other than political. Democrats seem far more concerned about how unrestricted press coverage of the oil spill might affect their political fortunes than whether or not amendments to the CLEAR Act have to be “germane.”
For his part, Broun touted the necessity of his amendment as reinforcing the press's role as a safeguard against malfeasance on the part of the Obama administration -- you know, the check on power that journalists are so proud to provide. Anderson Cooper had made a similar statement regarding the Coast Guard's now-defunct policy.
Broun said in a statement,
There have been several accounts of the Obama Administration restricting access and stopping the press from thoroughly reporting on this oil spill. The media has a responsibility to not only accurately report the news but to keep everyone associated with the spill accountable. President Obama promised transparency, but we have seen numerous examples where that is not the case. There is no excuse for reporters and photographers to be denied access to public places unless their life is in imminent danger. This amendment is necessary in order to eliminate any confusion and ensure that First Amendment rights truly are protected.
As I reminded readers in a previous post, a number of organizations devoted to ensuring press freedom were up in arms after Hurricane Katrina at a FEMA policy that forbade journalists from embedding on rescue missions, citing the safety of those reporters and the victims being rescued.
In an attempt to address similar concerns, Broun's amendment makes sure to issue the caveat, "Except in cases of imminent harm to human life." The amendment was still rejected. We will see if those same watchdog organizations take notice.
For its part, the mainstream press is conspicuously silent on the Broun amendment's defeat.