Controversial Conservative online outlet Breitbart News has been denied a highly coveted permanent press pass to cover Congress due to questions about its real ownership, the on-going influence of White House counselor Steve Bannon, links to a Conservative non-profit and other unresolved issues.
The passes are highly sought after by political news organizations because they provide easier access to members in the Halls of Congress and can help a reporter qualify to join the White House Correspondents Association, whose members cover the President. The “hard passes” also are used to get entry to a wide range of other events around Washington, D.C.
The credential must be approved by a group of five reporters from well-known traditional media outlets who comprise a standing committee of correspondents in the U.S. Senate Daily Press Gallery.
To win a “permanent” pass, which is an embossed placard, a news organization must submit financial information on its ownership so that it can be shown they aren’t being used by any special interest groups. In a letter sent to Breitbart, the committee requested information on the involvement of Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of billionaire Conservative Robert Mercer, who was one of Trump’s biggest backers in the Presidential election.
His daughter Rebekah was one of Trump’s economic advisors during the campaign, a member of his transition team and has continued to be an influential voice with close ties to the Trump administration.
The Mercers have acknowledged they are major financial backers of Breitbart and remain an owner along with Breitbart’s widow Susie and the current Breitbart CEO Larry Solov, who spoke with the committee last month. The committee wants to know how much influence Rebekah Mercer has over editorial operations.
Solov apparently denied Bannon, who used to head Breitbart, has any current involvement, but his answers also raised other questions. Those include the links with the non-profit Conservative Government Accountability Institute by two Breitbart editors, Peter Schweizer, who is an editor at large, and Managing Editor Wynton Hall. The Institute was co-founded by Bannon and Schweizer in 2012.
Breitbart has been granted a temporary press pass while the committee awaits the answers, which are due by April 18.
Breitbart has grown from a backwater operation that appealed mainly to the far right wing into an important Conservative voice in the past couple years as it supported the rise of Trump, and praised his election as President. It also benefited from the connection to Bannon, who was suggested to Trump by the Mercers and is one of Trump’s closest and most controversial advisors.
This kind of “news organization” makes a lot of traditional journalists rightfully uncomfortable by blurring the line between fair reporting and promotion of favorite people and causes.
It is to the credit of the committee that it remains dedicated to keeping the press who cover Congress as fair, responsible and unbiased as possible, despite tremendous pressure from the current administration to slant toward those who give favorable coverage while, as Bannon has put it, considering all other media an enemy.