What The Media Didn’t Report About Today’s Closed Session of the Senate

November 1st, 2005 9:34 PM

There was a lot of media excitement today surrounding the rare “closed session” called in the Senate by Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). In fact, a Google news search identified 684 articles and postings on the subject. For example, Reuters reported:

“Democrats forced the Senate into a rare closed session on Tuesday to protest what they decried as the Republican-led body's inattention to intelligence failures on Iraq and the leak of a CIA operative's identity.

“Invoking a little used rule, Democrats temporarily shut down television cameras in the chamber, cleared galleries of reporters, tourists and other onlookers, forced removal of staff members and recording devices and stopped work on legislation.”

MSNBC, with the assistance of the Associated Press, even reported this event as a huge win for the Democrats, with a sub-headline, “Following unusual closed Senate session, Democrats claim victory.”

Yet, from what I can tell, there was little if any discussion by most media outlets including Reuters, MSNBC, and AP concerning how rarely this rule is invoked, and under what circumstances in American history it has been employed.

As stated at the Senate’s website:

“‘Secret,’ or ‘closed,’ sessions of the House and Senate exclude the press and the public. They are held to discuss business such as Senate deliberations during impeachment trials, issues of national security, and sensitive communications received from the President, all deemed to require confidentiality and secrecy.”

Just how rare are such proceedings?

“Since 1929, the Senate has held 53 secret sessions, generally for reasons of national security. Six of the most recent secret sessions, however, were held during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Four of those sessions were in February 1999 during the final impeachment deliberations. Two were in January 1999 to discuss a motion to end the trial and another motion to call witnesses. In 1997, the Senate met in secret to consider the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty, and in 1992, to debate the “most favored nation” status of China. The Senate also closed its doors during the impeachment trial of a federal judge in 1933 and on six occasions while considering impeachment articles against three other federal judges in the 1980s.”

Adding it all up, in the past 76 years, such sessions have only been called in the Senate to discuss impeachment proceedings, treaties, and issues of national security. Given this, it seems curious that the media didn't spend much time on the history of this rare occurrence, and given past precedent, why today's events warranted a closed session.