National Press Club Newsmakers Committee Chair Resigns in Protest

Ronald Baygents has resigned his position as chairman of the National Press Club’s Newsmakers Committee.

Baygents is a reporter for the Kuwait News Agency in Washington, D.C. and was chair of the Newsmakers Committee for the last two years — until Saturday, when he resigned over the handling of the upcoming appearance at the Club of Israeli special envoy Zalman Shoval.

Shoval is scheduled to attend a Newsmakers Event at the Press Club Wednesday February 13, 2013 at 4 p.m.

Shoval’s Newsmaker event was set up by Newsmakers Committee member Peter Hickman — and Hickman was scheduled to moderate the event — until Monday of this week.

That’s when current Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane e-mailed Hickman to inform him that he wasn’t going to be allowed to moderate the event.

“Peter — thank you for your work in lining up the Israeli envoy for the Newsmaker this week,” Keane wrote. “I’m glad we’re having him at the Club. Because of the potentially contentious nature of the audience he may attract, I’ve asked Donna Leinwand to moderate it.”

Leinwand is a reporter for USA Today and a former Press Club President.

Baygents said that Press Club presidents have a prerogative to intervene and moderate a major event, but this usually means that the President moderates it.

Keane’s concern about the “contentious nature of the audience” is rooted in recent Press Club history — most notably a Press Club Newsmakers event in November 2011 featuring Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal Al Sa’ud.

That event was hosted by Hickman.

At the event, Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a Press Club member, got into a heated back and forth with the Prince about the legitimacy of the Saudi regime.

“Before the end of the day, I’d received a letter informing me that I was suspended from the National Press Club ‘due to your conduct at a news conference,’” Husseini wrote after the event. “The letter, signed by the executive director of the Club, William McCarren, accused me of violating rules prohibiting ‘boisterous and unseemly conduct or language.’ After several days of efforts, I’ve been able to obtain video of the news conference. The video shows that I did not engage in any ‘boisterous and unseemly conduct or language.’”

The video shows Hickman interrupting Husseini a couple of times — saying — “Sam let him answer” and “Sam that’s enough.”

(Husseini was unsuspended from Club within two weeks of his suspension.)

We e-mailed Keane, asking for her to comment.

She answered with an e-mail saying only that “It’s not unusual to have presidents or past presidents moderate events such as tomorrow’s.”

In a follow up phone conversation, we asked Keane how Leinward would handle a “contentious” audience better than Hickman would.

Keane said she wouldn’t address that issue.

“As chairman of the Newsmakers Committee, I have always taken a lot of pride in what our Committee generates for the Club,” Baygents said.

“And I try to make sure that our Committee members, who work hard to pull together these events, are able to host them.”

“A new President comes in and removes one our members —  who put together the event — from hosting it,” Baygents said. “She didn’t not allow me — with my Middle East background — to host it as Chairman. She didn’t discuss with me finding another Committee member who she was comfortable with.  And she sends over someone who is not a member of the Committee to host it. And she gives me no opportunity for any input on that decision. I found that professionally insulting and somewhat inexplicable.”

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