A mini-controversy erupted today on Twitter when a bunch of prominent national reporters — and a few conservatives — tweeted out a story from a local newspaper in Queens, which reported that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez barred reporters from a campaign event.
The story, in the Queens Chronicle, reported that Ocasio-Cortez held a town hall in the New York City borough earlier this week, noting: “Her campaign banned members of the media from attending the event, which was otherwise open to the public.” The same thing happened at an earlier event in the Bronx.
Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director, Corbin Trent, told me on Friday that the campaign had decided to try a handful of private events in order to make constituents feel more comfortable about speaking out. Since winning the Democratic nomination in New York’s 14th Congressional District, Ocasio-Cortez has received a crush of media coverage.
“We decided to do community events that would attempt to create a sort of different environment — an environment that was a little more intimate by excluding cameras and press,” Trent told me, adding that the idea was to “create an open space for community members and community leaders to speak openly.” Trent noted that “when people know that they’re being recorded and scrutinized, they change the way they interact.”
But Trent confirmed that it would not be happening again. “It’s not been a policy of the campaign,” Trent said. “It won’t be the policy of the campaign.” Asked whether there would be any such media exclusions going forward, Trent said: “No.”
Trent defended the decision, pointing out that, even in those two cases, “we were still committed to transparency by live-streaming the events.”
“We’ve done at least two dozen events since the [primary] election that had press at them,” Trent said. “We’ve done embeds with press. We’ve done 30 or 40 interviews so far one-on-one. So we’ve been very open and accessible to the press, and will continue to be so.”
Trent also noted: “It’s not without precedent for politicians to have events that are private.” And indeed, this is true: Plenty of politicians hold private events with donors and other types of supporters all the time, with no comment from the media.
But what this episode really shows is just how intense the scrutiny will be on Ocasio-Cortez going forward, now that she has emerged as a leading representative of what might be called the Democratic Party’s ascendant social-democratic (or, if you prefer, democratic-socialist) wing, as well as a prominent symbol of the generational change currently roiling the party.
And so, every such move by Ocasio-Cortez will be picked apart (sometimes, perhaps, in a less-than-above-board way, by those who are looking for anything they can find to characterize her and the ascendant left as illiberal). Ocasio-Cortez is now on her way to becoming a national figure, and an extra level of caution about even the most seemingly small decision is what that entails.