If there’s something worse than being called a lobbyist, it’s being labeled a “hobbyist.”
What a long strange trip Sam Husseini is taking these days. Hunter S. Thompson he’s not. But he is trying his hand at a form of Gonzo “journalism” that’s landing him in hot water and earning him the description of “hobbyist” by the National Press Club’s Executive Director Bill McCarren (pictured at left). The club recently suspended Husseini (pictured below) for two weeks after they say he became disruptive at a press conference. The NPC Ethics Committee is quietly debating Husseini’s club status in a process likely to conclude before his suspension ends. Husseini, meanwhile, is prepping for a possible meeting between him, his lawyer and the Committee.
McCarren spoke with FishbowlDC late this afternoon by phone about Husseini and the tension-filled press conference that started this whole mess. While McCarren would not speak about Ethics Committee deliberations, he said Husseini is by no means a journalist. Rather, he charged, he’s advocacy and gets paid by clients of the Institute for Public Accuracy. This is why the Press Club puts Husseini, also a blogger who writes washingtonstakeout.com, in the category of “Communicator.” As such, he pays higher dues and is not allowed to vote in elections.
“The ethics process is playing out and that’s the part we won’t talk about until we give him the courtesy in a letter,” McCarren told FishbowlDC. “He’s a member so it should be between us and him.”
Suspensions do happen at the NPC, but their prevalence is not known. “We’re not a rule-heavy place, but it does happen,” he said, unwilling to reveal even roughly how many he has seen in his time there. “We don’t talk about that.”
Then what qualifies as reasoning for reprimand? McCarren said repercussions become necessary when members “diminish the experience.” In Husseini’s case, McCarron says, his intention was to disrupt the press conference. “We don’t care about the toughness of the question, we care about its duration,” he explained. “He was making a speech and he was trying to take a cream pie and hit the guest in the face. The guy was there to speak about an assassination plot against Saudis that might have taken place by a Mexican hit man hired by Iran and would have happened in Washington and killed U.S. citizens. That’s a hell of a story. In our view, Sam is not a journalist. How about we let the journalists in the room ask questions?”
This is in hot dispute. Husseini claims he is a journalist because he writes for a blog. The Press Club says he’s not because he writes with a slant and works as a Communications Director. “The guys from Reuters and NBC, I’m pretty sure what they’re there to do,” said an outraged McCarren. “He [Husseini] has paying clients. I’m pretty sure he was there to be disruptive. He was filibustering. Then he flipped a whole bunch of attitude. It didn’t make me happy that he made this all about himself, that he caused cameras to focus on his little moment. I would have hoped that he’d act more respectful of his colleagues.”
He also hoped Husseini might have the “sensitivity to at least hang back and hear what the professionals are asking. It’s not like Sam Husseini can go to the White House, Congress or the State Department and ask a question. We’re about the only place in town he can go and ask a question. We are his meal ticket. For him to say we’re censoring is ridiculous.”
McCarren hopes the suspension will teach Husseini a lesson…
“Do I want him to think about doing this again?” asks McCarren. “Yes, I do. If he didn’t know better that’s one thing, but I think he knew exactly what he was doing. Couple of guys like Sam, well meaning as they may be, come in and decide they are more important, that’s a problem.”
If this looks like a war between online and print journalists, the NPC insists it is not. “Sam thinks he’s a better journalist than anyone in the room,” said McCarren. “The sheer conceit of that sort of thing from someone who is not credentialed…I mean, have a little sense of proportion.”
Finally, McCarren employs a metaphor involving a butcher and a surgeon. You’re having foot surgery. Whom do you choose, a butcher or a surgeon? “You’d rather have the surgeon,” says McCarren. “Sam has a spiral notebook. At best, he’s a hobbyist. That’s a little bit of a strange trip to take everyone on your hobby like that.”
For Husseini’s views on what happened, read his extensive remarks here.