FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct. 1, 2014
The Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists was distressed to learn that press minders sought to prevent reporters from interviewing people who attended a Mary Burke campaign event in Milwaukee on Monday, Sept. 29, featuring First Lady Michelle Obama.
The good news is that the campaign of gubernatorial candidate Burke and the White House have a chance to get it right. Obama is returning to Wisconsin for a Burke campaign event in Madison on Tuesday, Oct. 7. We call on the White House and the Burke campaign to allow reporters to speak to event attendees at any time – before, during or after the event. A Burke campaign spokesman told us today there would be no restrictions at the Madison event.
According to reporters, aides to both the Burke campaign and the White House sought to prevent reporters covering the Milwaukee event from speaking with event attendees until the event ended. Here’s how Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Kissinger described it on Facebook:
“To say that I was creeped out is an understatement. This is what reporters do in America: we speak to people. At least that’s how I’ve been doing things — at all kinds of political events — since 1979.”
One press minder even told the chairman of the state Democratic Party to stop talking to a reporter because he was inside the press pen. The Burke spokesman told us he intervened and allowed the interview to proceed.
These are not the only restrictions that have been imposed by campaigns on the media in recent years. Wisconsin-based reporters have noted increasing attempts to prevent them from doing their jobs, including holding pens, limits on who can be interviewed, and more.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, for example, the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan hand-picked event attendees to be interviewed, one reporter told SPJ. That year campaigns for the Wisconsin U.S. Senate candidates roped off media from people attending Election Night parties in an effort to prevent interviews. At the Republican state convention this year, party officials told some reporters not to interview delegates in the audience.
As we near Nov. 4 and campaign season accelerates, we urge the political parties and individual campaigns to grant the press open access to candidates, supporters and event attendees.
Contact: Mark Pitsch, Madison SPJ president, 608-252-6145
This statement has been updated from an earlier version to correct a description of reporter’s events involving an interview with the state Democratic Party chairman.