The Pledge Problem

Media's role in legislative proceedings questioned


The most recent controversy to come out of the Capitol Annex isn't closed primary elections or abortion; it's whether a reporter has to say the Pledge of Allegiance verbally while on the House floor.

A March 7 letter from House Speaker Lawerence Denney to Betsy Russell, head of the Capitol Press Corps, stated his displeasure that some members of the media were observed not saying the pledge at the start of each House session.

In the letter Denney states, "Please inform members of the press that if they choose not to participate in the pledge they have ample time following the pledge and before the 11th order to join us on the floor."

Russell said she is not going to write an official response, but others covering the Legislature have had mixed reactions, many saying they have the right to observe the pledge in any manner they choose.

But some see it differently.

While Chuck Malloy, communications adviser with the House majority caucus, admits he has not seen the activity in question, he said Denney's letter speaks for itself.

Denney was not available for comment by press time.

"Being on the house floor is not a right, but a privilege," he said. "Of course, you can report and write about what you want, but if you're going to be on the floor, there's a certain decorum you must follow."

Malloy later acknowledged that the state Constitution guarantees the right of the media to sit on the House floor.

"It comes down to politeness and respect," he said. "If you're going to be [on] the floor at the prayer or the pledge, you follow it."

Bob Steele, journalism values scholar at the Pointer Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., said this is the first time he's ever heard of such a request of reporters, who often see their role as observers, not participants.

"Journalists should be respectful, but I don't think a journalist should be required to do anything others would not be asked to do," he said.

Some statehouse observers have jumped on the issue, claiming it's an example of how untrustworthy the media is and calling for the pledge to be mandatory.

Bryan Fischer, executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, ironically sent out a release about the press to the press.

"If the media isn't prepared to practice even this most basic expression of citizenship, what reason do we have to believe their reporting will not be biased against the country we love?" he wrote.

Fischer went on to out Idaho Statesman reporter Heath Druzin, who told Fischer that he says the pledge to himself while standing and observing the ritual. Fischer also singled out BW reporter Nathaniel Hoffman and Jill Kuraitis, "left-wing blogger" from, who both spoke out for the right to choose how, or if, to say the pledge.

"Do these members of the media have any kind of loyalty to the United States?" Fischer wrote.

Fischer's arguments are reminiscent of those the West Virginia State Board of Education used in 1943 when it attempted to impose a mandatory pledge for all public school students. They took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost.

In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the court ruled that forcing anyone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment.

"To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds," the court wrote in its opinion.