Re­porters stood up to at­tack by a gover­nor

The Arizona Republic - - News - Ka­rina Bland

Ari­zona Gov. Evan Mecham had sum­moned re­porters to a press con­fer­ence at the state Capi­tol to talk about his plan for ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing. The Capi­tol press corps, 15 or so re­porters, du­ti­fully gath­ered.

It was March 19, 1987, a time when peo­ple got their news from the morn­ing

Ari­zona Repub­lic, the af­ter­noon Phoenix

Gazette, the ra­dio and the TV news. John Kolbe, a colum­nist for the Gazette, asked the first ques­tion. Mecham ig­nored him and asked if there were any ques­tions.

Kolbe and Mecham were at odds. Kolbe was ag­gres­sive, of­ten gruff, but smart and un­com­pro­mis­ing. Mecham was a fre­quent tar­get of his barbs.

Ear­lier that month, Mecham had de­clared Kolbe a “non-per­son.”

Kolbe was un­de­terred. “Does this mean I can now non-work?” he asked.

Mecham banned Kolbe from the gover­nor’s of­fice. His press sec­re­tary wouldn’t re­turn his calls.

Now Mecham pre­tended he couldn’t hear Kolbe’s ques­tion.

So Larry Lopez of the As­so­ci­ated Press asked it. Mecham ig­nored him, too. And the Gazette’s Michael Mur­phy, who asked Kolbe’s same ques­tion. And the next re­porter who did the same. Mecham walked out.

It was a rare show of sol­i­dar­ity. Re­porters hardly ever stick up for one an­other. It is a com­pet­i­tive busi­ness.

But a pub­lic of­fi­cial can’t tar­get a re­porter be­cause he doesn’t like his ques­tions, even when they’re tough. The Constitution guar­an­tees press free­dom.

On Wed­nes­day, the White House re­voked the press badge of CNN cor­re­spon­dent Jim Acosta fol­low­ing a tense ex­change with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. In an­other rare show of sol­i­dar­ity, an NBC News re­porter stood up for Acosta, draw­ing his own re­buke from the pres­i­dent.

Af­ter Mecham shut out Kolbe, re­porters wore “non-per­son” but­tons. Ed­i­tors and sta­tion man­agers protested.

A month later, when Kolbe asked a ques­tion at a press con­fer­ence, Mecham an­swered.

Colum­nist Ari­zona Repub­lic USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

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