Originally published in The Plain Dealer and on cleveland.com on Aug. 20, 2022. Reprinted with permission.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely presidential candidate in 2024, scheduled a trip to Ohio Friday to stump for Senate candidate J.D. Vance, and our reporters were not there because of ridiculous restrictions that DeSantis and Vance placed on anyone covering the event.
The worst of the rules was one prohibiting reporters from interviewing attendees not first approved by the organizers of the event for DeSantis and Vance. When we cover events, we talk to anyone we wish. It’s America, after all, the land of free speech. At least that’s America as it exists today. Maybe not the America that would exist under DeSantis and Vance.
Think about what they were doing here. They were staging an event to rally people to vote for Vance while instituting the kinds of policies you’d see in a fascist regime. A wannabe U.S. Senator, and maybe a wannabe president.
Another over-the-top rule was one reserving the right to receive copies of any video shot of the event for promotional use. That’s never okay. News agencies are independent of the political process. We do not provide our work product to anyone for promotional use. To do so would put us in league with people we cover, destroying our credibility.
Yet another of the rules reserved the right to know in what manner any footage of the event would be used. We are news people. We use footage on news platforms. But this rule set up a situation in which reporters could be grilled on their intentions.
I’m scratching my head over one other rule, one that prohibited reporters from entering the hotel rooms of any attendees of the event. If someone invites a reporter into a hotel room for an interview, what’s the harm?
Anyway, we didn’t accept the limitations, because they end up skewing the facts. If we can speak only with attendees chosen by the candidate, we don’t get a true accounting of what people thought of the event. You get spin from the most ardent supporters.
The organizers told the Washington Post they wanted to keep out people collecting footage for non-journalistic reasons and that they waive their rules sometimes for legitimate news outlets, like the Post. That rings hollow. If you are speaking publicly, people are going to use what you say to help you or fight you. That’s how politics work. And we don’t accept discretionary waivers to unacceptable rules.
The event was organized by Turning Point Action, a non-profit with ties to supporters of Donald Trump, but make no mistake about what it was. This was a rally for J.D. Vance, who wants to be your senator, who wants to take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States. You know. The document that says Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of the press.
And here he was, staging an event in which he thought he could tell the press who they could interview.
No. Not happening. Not now. Not ever. And voters might want to remember this anti-American strategy when it comes time to vote this November and on presidential ballots in 2024.
I should note that I’m writing this before the event occurred, so if something changed at the last minute, this piece would omit it.
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