WASHINGTON - The front of the Newseum has a 74-foot high marble engraving of the First Amendment, making it a massive monument to the freedom of the press sitting in a powerful corridor on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Capitol Hill.
Yet on Wednesday afternoon, following Mitt Romney’s 28-minute address, reporters were escorted out of the room where the presumptive Republican nominee was about to take questions from a group of some of the country’s most important business titans.
Cathy Trost, a vice president at the Newseum, said the matter was “very simple.’’ The museum rents out space to outside groups - in this case the Business Roundtable - and lets them decide whether to open their events to the public.
“It’s their space. They set the rules for what contents they put on in their program and what press rules they apply,’’ she said.
When asked about the irony of allowing a portion of a building built for press freedoms to be cordoned off from reporters, she said, “Revenues from event rentals help with the museum’s mission, which is to educate the public about a free press.’’
She pointed out that all museum exhibits are open to the press, as are events that are sponsored by the museum.
Officials at the Business Roundtable said they were under no obligation to open their meetings to the media. They also pointed out that President Obama spoke before their group in March - also at the Newseum, and under the same press guidelines.
“Our responsibility is to our CEO members, who pay dues to the Roundtable, and not to the press,’’ said Tita Freeman; senior vice president of the Business Roundtable. “Our job is to provide a forum for our members to come and have dialogue on the most pressing issues facing our country with leaders from the highest echelons from government. And we want that dialogue to be candid and robust.’’
By letting the media hear Romney’s prepared remarks, Freeman said, “I think we did a service to the news media.’’
Military heavy hitters go to bat for high seas treaty
WASHINGTON - Proponents of a treaty governing the high seas rolled out military star power Thursday to try to lift the prospects for a long-spurned pact that faces strong conservative Republican opposition.
Two generals and four admirals, including the chief of naval operations and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appealed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United States is the only major nation that has refused to sign the treaty, which was concluded in 1982 and been in force since 1994.
The appearance by the military leaders came a few weeks after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a rare joint appearance before the committee to argue for the treaty.
Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and the committee’s chair, is trying to build a case for the pact, which is endorsed by 161 countries and the European Union. Kerry is holding out the possibility of a vote in a congressional lame-duck session after the November elections.
The military leaders insisted that the pact would improve national security and enhance US standing in the world, while conservatives say the treaty would undermine US sovereignty. The United States has abided by the treaty since President Reagan’s administration.
“It will fortify our credibility as the world’s leading naval power and allow us to bring to bear the full force of our influence on maritime disputes,’’ said Admiral James Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “In short, it preserves what we have and it gives us yet another tool to engage any nation that would threaten our maritime interests.’’
Said Kerry: “Do we really want to entrust our national security to an unwritten set of rules? Is there any other area in which we choose to leave important matters of national security to customary law? The answer to both questions is no.’’
The treaty establishes a system for resolving disputes in international waters and recognizes sovereign rights over a country’s continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles and beyond if the country can provide evidence to substantiate its claims.
Some witnesses also spoke against the treaty, targeting a system of royalty payments under the treaty that compels countries such as the United States to make payments to developing countries, saying it would force wealthy countries to aid others.
“I do not believe the United States should endorse a treaty that makes it a legal obligation for productive countries to pay royalties to less productive countries, based on rhetoric about the common heritage of mankind,’’ former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.