It was not all that surprising when staffers for GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski prevented reporter Kaitlyn Krasselt and photographer Peter Hvizdak from entering his election-night headquarters, telling the Hearst Media journalists they must leave because of the Stefanowski camp’s “objections to coverage.”
Stefanowski had already established a track record of shunning most news-media interviews — save for his appearance with those journalistic beacons Chaz & AJ of WPLR-FM radio, on whose morning show Stefanowski gave his concession speech.
Thankfully, journalists from competing outlets like the Hartford Courant, Connecticut Mirror, WNPR, WSHU, and our own CTNewsJunkie came to the rescue by expressing support for their spurned colleagues. Ultimately, Stefanowski relented and allowed Krasselt and Hvizdak into his headquarters.
But Stefanowski was hardly the only candidate attempting to thwart news coverage on election night.
Local Republicans in Norwalk also denied access to reporter Nancy Chapman of NancyOnNorwalk.com, only to see Thane Graul, editor of Hearst’s competing Norwalk Hour newspaper, provide her with everything his reporters had gathered at the location that evening for use on her own site.
“A free press is a cornerstone of our democratic system,” Grauel wrote Monday in an email to NancyOnNorwalk. “Political figures don’t get to pick and choose who covers them, whether it’s in Norwalk or Washington … Media outlets must be allowed to do their job.”
In Iowa, Carol Hunter, the executive editor of The Des Moines Register, explained that GOP Congressional representative Steve King denied the state’s largest newspaper credentials to King’s own election-night event, calling the Register a “leftist propaganda media outlet with no concern for reporting the truth.”
And, of course, there’s Donald Trump, who continues his own war against the press, highlighted last week by the showdown with CNN reporter Jim Acosta wherein Trump, annoyed by Acosta’s line of questioning, revoked his White House credentials.
The official line from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed more than mere annoyance with Acosta: “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable.”
Whether Acosta actually “placed his hands on a young woman” attempting to take a microphone away is dubious, at best. But what is clear is Trump’s disdain for the press — especially for women reporters of color.
“This week, he hit a trifecta, singling out three African American women who are journalists,” reported the Washington Post. “The women — Abby Phillip, April Ryan, and Yamiche Alcindor — earned his contempt apparently just for asking him questions.”
In particular, “Trump called one of Phillip’s questions ‘stupid,’ described Ryan as ‘a loser’ and brushed off Alcindor, saying her question was ‘racist’.”
If I were the cynical type, I’d say Trump’s behavior is a calculated strategy that taps into the public’s growing displeasure with the press.
To wit: “The number of Americans with some or a great deal of trust in the press has dropped 30 percentage points since the late 1970s,” according to an August 2018 survey from Ipsos, a global marketing research firm.
Furthermore, even as 85 percent of Americans agree that the “freedom of the press is essential for American democracy,” 26 percent say “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”
So Donald Trump, Steve King, and Bob Stefanowksi have openly derided the news media, leaning on growing public scorn for reporters. But will this attitude last? Will the public ever recognize that a reporter’s job is not to make all people — especially politicians — happy?
“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in response to papers disparaging him during his 1800 presidential campaign against John Adams. “Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
Jefferson sounds like an erstwhile Donald Trump railing against “the enemy of the people.” But Jefferson was no Trump. Not by a longshot. He was actually capable of understanding the paradox that a free press can be simultaneously infuriating and necessary.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Jefferson wrote.
Perhaps, like Donald Trump, people find reporters like Jim Acosta annoying — even rude — when they badger the president with pointed questions. Like Jefferson, however, I see such pugnacious reporting as vital to our democracy. It’s a simple choice.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.