Shutting Out The Messenger

It’s not exactly “shooting” the messenger, but Georgia Governor Nathan Deal recently had a state trooper block a WGAG (Fox 5) news reporter from attending a press event arranged for the signing of a new immigration bill. So what’s the Deal? (sorry) It seems the Governor didn’t like an investigative report by Fox 5 reporter Dale Russell. That report raised questions about payments that Deal’s campaign made to a fundraising company run by Deal’s daughter in law. And of course, that begs the question whether a thin skinned public official can retaliate against a particular news outlet based on stories the public official doesn’t like. It’s actually a little more nuanced then it may seem. A few years back Maryland Governor Robert Erlich banned his staff from talking to two Baltimore Sun reporters. Erlich was upset with the Sun’s coverage of his administration. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the ban did not violate the Constitution. Not long after that, Youngstown Ohio Mayor George McKelvey issued a directive to city officials ordering them not to speak to reporters for the Youngstown Business Journal. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio allowed the edict to stand. And there have been other examples. The gist of the holdings is that the press has no First Amendment right to have people talk to them. Anyone can refuse to talk to the media. So an order forbidding a public employee to talk to the media, or even just some media doesn’t violate the media’s constitutional rights. It might violate the employee’s First Amendment rights, but that is a different matter. But the Georgia situation takes it up a notch. Because Deal isn’t telling his staff not to talk to Fox 5 (although he may be doing that too), he is banning one media outlet from an event otherwise open to the press, based on that outlet’s unflattering coverage. That probably does violate the Constitution. Because the First Amendment does protect “freedom of the press.” And while that protection may not give the press the right to compel someone to talk, it does provide the right to attend public events. I hope someone talks some sense into the Governor. This type of behavior ultimately leads to intimidation and discourages news outlets from exposing corruption and other sleaziness. And that is a bad Deal for everyone.