Congress is proposing rules that would severely limit press coverage of the impeachment of Donald Trump, restricting where reporters may locate themselves and dramatically restructuring the way that reporters may speak with Senators and other representatives relative to the previously enjoyed status quo. It is also imposing stringent new security checks that will make it more difficult for reporters to get news coverage out in a timely manner.

Journalists have long been barred from entering the Senate chamber, relegated to an overhead view from the press gallery above. Now, to enter the upstairs gallery, they will need to queue up for a magnetometer meant to sniff out illicit electronics, raising concerns about their ability to quickly relay to the public what is happening inside.

I've seen no outcry that this is a violation of the first amendment, so I assume that I have a fundamental misunderstanding somewhere. But to my eye, this appears to be a clear abridgement of the freedom of the press, preventing them from gaining access that can be, should be, and must be in the public record for everyone to see and review.

Why is this not seen as a violation of the freedom of the press?

  • 2
    There's been quite a few press reports and editorials that I'd say qualify at least somewhat as an "outcry": google.com/…
    – Just Me
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 14:26
  • 11
    Same reason it's not a First Amendment violation that I can't exercise my freedom of speech/press in the Oval Office whenever I like, I suspect.
    – ceejayoz
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 15:57
  • 3
    Is concealing information from the press the same thing as barring the press from reporting information you didn't prevent them from having? Let's say some Senator leaked some of this info - First Amendment questions would come up if the press were then obstructed from or punished for publishing the content of the leak.
    – Beanluc
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 22:41

3 Answers 3


Freedom of the press means that anyone can publish anything they know without having to obey government gag orders. The government is not required to keep journalists informed. Freedom of the press is not violated if the government tries hard to not leak anything to the press.

That's why the Freedom of Information Act exists. It grants journalists access to certain government information. Freedom of information is entirely different from (and unrelated to) freedom of the press. The constitution is definitely not violated here, but the Freedom of Information Act might be.

  • 5
    plus the quote itself only says "raising concerns about their ability to quickly relay to the public what is happening inside." It doesn't seem to fear that information cannot be published, just twittering about it might not be an option etc. This information doesn't have any need to be provided within minutes, the only drawback could be that the government can provide their own narrative at the same time or earlier than press reports. At least the quoted part seems pretty harmless wrt. to the amendment and a proper information of the general public. Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 23:19
  • 1
    Feel free to pick up any parts of my comment if you feel like it or not if you don't. Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 23:20
  • 7
    @FrankHopkins And honestly, given how many times in the past 5-10 years the media has, by-and-large gotten a story totally wrong due to haste, maybe forcibly slowing them down will lead to better reporting.
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 4:52
  • 7
    As a point of comparison, the press can publish facts about a company, but they don't have the right to freely stroll into one of the company's buildings to go looking for those facts. The company may also be required to make some information public, e.g. financial information.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 13:34
  • @NotThatGuy The press may also be prohibited from publishing facts from the company, e.g., trade secrets and other intellectual property.
    – doneal24
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 19:23

People often get this misconception, and it's related to one non-stated factoid: press covering political events are a mutually agreed convention.

Politicians give press conferences, and the press broadcasts them. Neither are required by law to do that. The politician thinks they'll be better off by giving the press conference - whether it's to give their spin on something, or simply because they're appearing accountable. Likewise, the press broadcasts it because they think they'll be better off - that they'll garner more viewers and interest than whatever other story they'd be covering instead.

This mutually agreement isn't stated... but it goes deeply into the heart of how politicians and the press act. If press coverage of something wouldn't help both parties out, it simply doesn't happen. For example, the press doesn't broadcast a house rep's speech on soybean farmers, because very few people want to watch it - even if that rep would love to have it covered. Likewise, a decision-making meeting within a caucus wouldn't be covered, because the caucus wouldn't want its arguments to go outside the walls - they want to provide a united front, even if the press would love to get the juicy details of their disagreements

Here's an article going into a bit more depth, particularly the extreme we've got now - where politicians feel the press is unfair to the point where it doesn't actually benefit them to participate in the agreement (you can disagree about the correctness/rightness of it, but that's generally at least the reason they're doing it.)

Once this 'mutual agreement' disappears, the press isn't that much different from any ordinary citizen - they can't simply barge in to wherever they want to go. They can't force their way into the oval office, the floor of the senate, etc. Sure, the government can't force them to say anything in particular or prevent them from saying something negative, but they certainly don't have to allow them to go wherever they want.


Rainer P.'s answer already covers that Freedom of the Press doesn't have anything to do with providing information to the press. But even if that weren't true, your question seems to be predicated on a belief that an impeachment trial

can be, should be, and must be in the public record for everyone to see and review

"Can be" is true enough, and "should be" is a matter of opinion. And while I imagine most people in the US share that opinion, neither "can be" nor "should be" automatically result in a conclusion that it "must be." And there is no law that requires an impeachment trial to be in the public record.

Constitutionally, each chamber of Congress is required to create a journal of their proceedings, but it doesn't specify what should go in those journals. Usually, they only contain a very high-level overview of what the chamber's business of the day was, with no information on deliberations or debates. But even if the journal did contain details of the trial, the Constitution allows each chamber to decide on their own if any of their proceedings are secret and thus shouldn't be included in the journal.

Outside of what's specified in the Constitution, there is a law that requires all public proceedings of Congress to be printed in the Congressional Record. But again, each chamber gets to decide on their own which proceedings will be public.

There is a Senate rule that says that during an impeachment trial, the doors of the Senate shall be kept open. But that's a Senate rule that the Senate can decide to change on their own. And even that rule does allow the doors to be closed by majority vote, during deliberations.

So, no, there is no "must be" when it comes to making an impeachment trial part of the public record.

  • 4
    "Public record" means published in the Federal Register, not that certain spectators get preferential seating. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 4:36
  • 2
    The Federal Register is where Executive Branch activity is published. Congressional activity is published in the Senate/House journals and in the Congressional Record, both of which I addressed in the answer.
    – Elezar
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 17:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .