A united de­fense of the First Amend­ment

The News-Times - - OPINION -

To quote one of the most fa­mous Repub­li­cans of the mod­ern age, “Tear down this wall.” The wall in ques­tion does not di­vide na­tions. This one seeks to sti­fle the free press, and it has be­come higher in the United States in re­cent months.

Dur­ing the fevered fi­nal hours of the Con­necti­cut gu­ber­na­to­rial race on Elec­tion Night, GOP can­di­date Bob Ste­fanowski’s camp tried to stop Hearst Con­necti­cut Group re­porter Kait­lyn Kras­selt and pho­tog­ra­pher Peter Hviz­dak from en­ter­ing the Rocky Hill ball­room where Ste­fanowski and other Repub­li­cans were await­ing re­sults.

They were told by mem­bers of Ste­fanowski’s cam­paign staff that Hearst jour­nal­ists were not wel­come, cit­ing ob­jec­tions to cov­er­age.

It’s not the first col­li­sion Con­necti­cut jour­nal­ists have had with the cam­paign. Ste­fanowski has re­sisted meet­ings with ed­i­to­rial boards as well as re­porters’ queries on pol­icy as well as his back­ground. Elected of­fi­cials need to have a thick skin.

Jour­nal­ists from the Hart­ford Courant, Con­necti­cut Mir­ror, CT News Junkie, WNPR and WSHU jumped to our de­fense in Rocky Hill, and the show­down went vi­ral.

Hart­ford Courant Pub­lisher and Edi­tor An­drew Julien, who was poised to pull his staff from the scene, tweeted that the news­pa­per “stands by its col­leagues.”

Con­necti­cut So­ci­ety of Pro­fes­sional Jour­nal­ists Pres­i­dent Bruno Matarazzo re­leased a state­ment that “Con­necti­cut’s con­sti­tu­tion re­in­forces the First Amend­ment right to a free press, and we would ex­pect any can­di­date look­ing to over­see the ex­ec­u­tive branch to re­spect that.”

Con­necti­cut GOP Chair­man J.R. Ro­mano must have ex­pe­ri­enced déjà vu when he learned of the stand­off. Two years ago, he de­nied ac­cess to a for­mer Hearst re­porter at the party’s state con­ven­tion. He used that in­ci­dent to try to raise money, in­stead draw­ing heat from mul­ti­ple out­lets.

Un­der pres­sure, Repub­li­cans opted to cre­den­tial our jour­nal­ists.

Politi­cians don’t get to elect who cov­ers them, de­spite a set of phan­tom rules quoted from the Don­ald Trump Play­book.

Elec­tions can be­come emo­tional — par­tic­u­larly for novice can­di­dates — and bad de­ci­sions can be made. But a state’s high­est elected of­fi­cial needs to rec­og­nize the vi­tal role of the me­dia within a democ­racy, and have the for­ti­tude to wel­come feed­back that doesn’t come from acolytes. It will come from opin­ion colum­nists and ed­i­to­rial writ­ers, but it will mostly come from con­stituents.

It’s our job to en­sure such voices have a pub­lic fo­rum.

Like Tom Fo­ley four years ago, Ste­fanowski will likely van­ish from the po­lit­i­cal scene in the wake of Ned La­mont’s nar­row vic­tory Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

That won’t change our mis­sion. We must hold all par­ties ac­count­able, es­pe­cially with Democrats tip­ping the scales in Hart­ford squarely in their fa­vor. One-party rule de­mands scru­tiny.

Com­pet­ing news out­lets stand­ing to­gether Tues­day for that ideal “was a proud mo­ment for the Con­necti­cut jour­nal­ism com­mu­nity,” said Matt DeRienzo, vice pres­i­dent of news and dig­i­tal con­tent for Hearst’s Con­necti­cut news­pa­pers.

It also was a re­minder that while a wall can block out peo­ple, it also holds the po­ten­tial to hush those within. On this Elec­tion Day, we were grate­ful for peers who formed a wall of their own to shield the First Amend­ment.

Politi­cians don’t get to elect who cov­ers them, de­spite a set of phan­tom rules quoted from the Don­ald Trump Play­book.

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