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Continued: Political parties to media: Get noses out of our tents

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 14, 2008 - 9:48 PM

As local Democratic and Republican endorsing conventions have unfolded this spring, members of both parties have become camera-shy.

Representatives of mainstream media outlets bearing video and audio equipment have been sent packing, along with partisan bloggers who have been trying to keep an eye on what members of the other party are up to.

Although it appears to have happened more often at GOP events, both sides have booted observers, at one point showing the door to the St. Cloud daily newspaper and Minnesota Public Radio.

Representatives of both parties say such calls are made strictly by local officials -- not by the state parties.

That may be so, say bloggers from opposite sides of the partisan divide, but they also agree that the doors should be left open to anyone who wants to cover a convention and abide by party rules.

They get strong agreement from Jane Kirtly, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. "Whoever's making these decisions is really out of touch," she said. "If you want to have accurate coverage of an event, you simply can't exclude the media writ large. If the political parties want to be relevant to young people, they have to stop acting like an old boys' club of 1870."

The stream of expulsions has been noted, tit for tat, by Minnesota Democrats Exposed, a well-known Republican blog, and The Uptake, a newer blog whose founders describe it as progressive, rather than partisan.

A clampdown scorecard

The first reported instance came about a month ago, when organizers of the GOP's Sixth Congressional District barred a St. Cloud Times reporter's video camera and a Minnesota Public Radio reporter's tape recorder. Organizers' rationale, according to MPR, was that they "don't like how audio and video has been edited and posted on sites like YouTube in the past, so we now prohibit media taping."

John Bodette, executive editor of the Times, objected. "There is an alarming increase in people trying to control what devices will be allowed into news events and how often online news stories or blogs can be updated," he wrote in an online column. "It's all about control. These moves also raise red flags for journalists because we wonder what people want to hide or block access to."

District Republican officials have not responded to a request for comment.

In short order, more expulsions or camera bans followed, at the DFL's First and Second Congressional District conventions, at the GOP's First District convention and at the GOP's District 42B convention -- an expulsion caught on camera.

"The reaction of some people to cameras is just nutty," said Gavin Sullivan, a DFLer who was kicked out of the 42B meeting. "You'd think the system could accommodate both neutral journalists and bloggers."

Different views, same page

Both Michael McIntee, the Uptake's executive producer, and Michael Brodkorb, the author of Minnesota Democrats Exposed, uncharacteristically find themselves on the same page on the issue.

"These conventions should be open to bloggers from both political parties," Brodkorb said. "Sure, it's their [convention organizers'] right to set their own rules, but if you follow the rules, let people cover it."

"People have gotten more wary, everyone worried about a 'macaca' moment," added McIntee, referring to a 2006 instance in which a candidate's words caused a stir. "But set the rules and we'll follow them. Without sunlight, all sorts of stuff happens. And when there's no coverage, people will always feel someone's pulling something."

Representatives of both parties favor openness in general, but pointed out that no bright line separates bloggers and citizen journalists from trackers, who follow candidates they oppose in the hopes of recording a damaging gaffe.

No disagreement from state GOP spokesman Mark Drake: "My standpoint is that these things should be open to members of both political parties. ... But we believe in local control. The fact is, tracking is part of the political reality now."

His DFL counterpart, Kelly Schwinghammer, agreed: "We encourage everyone to open their meetings, but they're free to make their own rules. We want openness and transparency, but it's an adversarial process and tracking is all part of the political gamesmanship."

Kirtley said it's understandable that politicians "are wary of recording devices, but the answer isn't kicking everyone out. The ubiquity of YouTube puts primal fear in a lot of political operatives and candidates who worry about how they'll be depicted. But if you're seeking public office, that's a price you have to pay."

Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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