The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion MAGA Republicans shut out the media — and the public

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit on July 22 in Tampa. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Journalists across the United States find themselves increasingly shut out of political events they would have routinely, and easily, covered in previous election cycles.

Candidates have been trying to bypass mainstream media scrutiny for generations. Most politicians prefer to engage with ideologically friendly outlets, such as Fox News or MSNBC. But in recent election cycles, campaigns have generally scheduled fewer, yet more scripted, public events. More often than before, newsworthy gatherings are not announced ahead of time, and reporters find out they occurred only when pictures get posted to social media or a news release is sent out later. For traditional outlets, interviews with many candidates have become harder to secure. Some campaigns don’t even return calls or emails.

These trends don’t just hinder media coverage. They also insulate would-be leaders from tough questions and thorny issues. Mostly, they hurt voters by leaving them less informed.

Both parties deserve criticism on this front, but the worst offenders, by far, come from the GOP’s MAGA wing. Sarah Palin, a former governor and vice-presidential nominee, announced no public events in Alaska between a rally that former president Donald Trump headlined for her in Anchorage on July 9 and the special election that took place Tuesday. In Pennsylvania, gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano’s campaign has physically barred reporters from entering events. Other candidates, such as Georgia U.S. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker, have also been extremely unavailable.

The Florida GOP recently blocked many independent reporters, including from The Post, from covering the party’s Sunshine Summit — which was previously open to the media — while permitting outlets that were deemed sufficiently supportive. When journalists complained, the spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted: “My message to them is to try crying about it.” Florida’s governor has pioneered new techniques in thwarting journalists from doing their jobs. He gave Fox News, for example, exclusive access to a bill-signing.

On Friday, Mr. DeSantis is to travel to Ohio to stump with Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance. The organizers of the event, a conservative nonprofit called Turning Point Action, are requiring that journalists applying for credentials agree to give organizers access to any footage they record and be willing to answer questions about how it will be used. Journalists who attend are restricted from recording speakers, staff and attendees who do not wish to be filmed and from going into certain areas of the event. They also are barred from recording anything displayed on projection screens.

To apply for a credential, reporters must agree to the terms that state: “Turning Point Action shall have the final say on all matters.” A spokesman for Turning Point Action says the group frequently waives “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.”

That’s a start, but these highly unusual conditions have led to understandable outrage among Ohio television stations. Media organizations record these events for the benefit of voters, as well as for history. They should be allowed to do their jobs unencumbered.

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