Journalists hoping to cover a Republican rally featuring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Ohio will have to agree to give organizers access to any footage they take, and could face questions about what it will be used for.
The press policy also restricts journalists to specific events and parts of the venue, and bars them from recording speakers who do not wish to be filmed. Turning Point Action has warned that violators could be kicked out of the event.
“These are highly unusual conditions,” according to Monica Nieporte, the president and executive director of the Ohio News Media Association, which represents outlets across the state.
In particular, Nieporte called out organizers’ demand for access to journalists’ footage — something that many newsrooms would consider an attempt to meddle with coverage. “We do not agree that the Unite & Win Rally has any standing to be asking for blanket access to the content that is created by journalists in exchange for permission to cover their event,” she told The Washington Post. “The journalists work for their media outlet and not for the Vance campaign. Their content is owned by their employer.”
She said her group has not been asked by member organizations to fight the restrictions, but she warned: “We strongly discourage our members from agreeing to any conditions which could lead to their content being censored or altered by a third party not affiliated with their media outlet.”
Kirstin McCudden, vice president of editorial for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said Turning Point Action’s demand that journalists explain and provide access to their footage “runs contrary to the role of the media as objective watchdogs” — though she said it’s becoming more common as a way to shield politicians from the press.
“Unfortunately, it’s the public electorate that loses when journalists can’t freely cover candidates,” McCudden added.
Andrew Kolvet, a spokesperson for Turning Point Action, said the press pass preconditions “protect the organization from being taken advantage of by organizations or companies — usually non-traditional press — that don’t intend to report on the event at all, but rather want to monetize raw footage/pics. These policies also maintain guest and speaker privacy in green rooms, backstage, etc., and protect our underage attendees.”
“That said,” he added, “we frequently [waive] certain clauses for legitimate press outlets that are covering the event in good faith, as we’ve offered to do with Washington Post reporters for the very events in question.”
The restrictions were met with outrage on social media from some journalists who cover Ohio and national news.
“Wow. This seems a little anti-democratic,” wrote Marty Schladen, a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal, on Twitter. Emma Henderson, a reporter for WKYC 3News in northeast Ohio tweeted: “Yiiikes.”
Another Ohio reporter, Morgan Trau of News 5 Cleveland, questioned how the policy would be applied. “Who is to say certain reporters wouldn’t be excluded and denied — despite having accurate and fair coverage?” she asked on Twitter.
It’s still unclear whether Turning Point Action can enforce its rules.
An Ohio reporter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their ability to attend the event, said the restrictions “seem intended to intimidate, but in reality they’re pretty easy to ignore or circumvent.”
In particular, this person told The Post, a requirement that journalists formally request to interview participants by emailing Turning Point could be bypassed by interviewing rallygoers before or after they leave the premises. “If it draws a tenth of the turnout for a Trump rally, we won’t have trouble finding people to talk on the way in or out,” they added. A spokesperson for the organization said the policy is intended primarily for events featuring students, who may be underage.
While Turning Point Action’s demand to see journalists’ footage is unusual, it’s hardly the first time in recent years that the press has been hindered from covering a political event. Trump briefly banned Post reporters from covering his rallies while running for president in 2016, and he was openly hostile to much of the White House press corps throughout his administration.