Economy 09-04-2024 13:02 3 Views

Colorado GOP ousts reporter from event, claiming ‘unfair’ coverage

As a veteran journalist in Colorado, it wasn’t Sandra Fish’s first time reporting on the state GOP assembly. But it was her first time getting kicked out.

The Colorado Republican Party expelled Fish from its event in Pueblo, Colo., on Saturday after she was told the party chairman finds her reporting “very unfair.”

A sheriff’s deputy escorted the longtime reporter out, drawing backlash from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and fellow journalists who criticized the move as an affront to democracy.

“It’s unfair to do this,” Fish said Monday. “It concerns me that people only want the information they agree with presented, and if they disagree with something, they want it concealed from the public. And that’s not how democracy works, no matter who’s in charge.”

Colorado GOP Chairman Dave Williams, a Donald Trump supporter who is running for a seat in the U.S. House, said he stands by the ejection.

“We make no apologies for kicking out a fake journalist,” Williams said in a text message Monday, echoing Trump’s oft-used epithet of “fake news.” Williams added that the Colorado Sun, a nonprofit news outlet founded in 2018, “is just an extension of the Democrat Party’s PR efforts.”

Williams declined to say what has been unfair about Fish’s reporting.

Colorado Sun editor Larry Ryckman said it’s “a sad day when politicians get to decide who can and cannot report for the American people,” according to the paper. He defended Fish’s reporting, calling her an “experienced, accomplished journalist,” the Sun reported.

Fish, 66, has been a reporter since 1982; she has covered Colorado’s Democratic and Republican parties for the past two decades. Some of her recent reporting details how the Colorado GOP, under Williams’s leadership, paid for mailers that criticized one of Williams’s congressional primary opponents and a newspaper in Colorado Springs. Last year, Fish reported on the state GOP’s fundraising woes.

Colorado has voted for Democratic candidates in the past four presidential elections; Williams has led the state Republican Party since March 2023.

On Saturday, Fish planned to cover the GOP assembly — an election-year meeting to nominate representatives to the Republican National Committee and adopt a party platform.

Early that morning, a party representative told Fish that she would not be permitted at the event.

“The state party has made the decision that today’s assembly is not an ‘open’ press event. This is to inform you that your name is not included in my final press credentials list currently being typed up,” Eric Grossman said in a 3:45 a.m. text message to Fish. “The state chairman believes current reporting to be very unfair.”

Fish decided to go anyway. Around 8:30 a.m., she walked into the gathering at the Colorado State Fairgrounds with a press credential in hand, she said.

“They gave me a press pass,” Fish said. “The assembly was about to start, and some of the security staff at the event came up and said I needed to leave.”

A security worker said the event organizers didn’t want Fish to be there, the reporter recalled.

She declined to leave.

Grossman, who had texted Fish early Saturday morning, approached her and reiterated that she must leave.

“I tried to ask him what was unfair about my reporting and other questions. And he was like, Get out of here,” Fish said.

She stayed. Then law enforcement arrived.

Video from the stands shows an official with the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office tell Fish that she wasn’t allowed to be there, and an event staffer said she was given a press pass “erroneously.”

Finally, Fish was escorted out.

“Political parties are private organizations that, I would argue, are doing public business, in terms of nominating candidates on behalf of their party,” Fish said.

The Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists said the move “represents a hostile disregard for the fundamental standards of transparency, accountability and press freedom.”

“Interfering with and attempting to suppress journalists from covering matters of civic engagement is an offense to democracy,” the group said on its website.

On social media, Republican state Rep. Matt Soper said political parties “shouldn’t be ejecting reporters from meetings” regardless of disagreements.

Democratic state Sen. Nick Hinrichsen said the incident was an “egregious abuse of power and violation of trust.”

Former Colorado GOP chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown called the action “dangerous” and said “transparency is necessary for our nation.”

The state Republican Party has publicly defended the move, criticizing journalists and state lawmakers who pushed back on Fish’s removal, including members of its own party. That bipartisan criticism of the ejection may have influenced a primary endorsement: The Colorado GOP announced Monday on X that it was endorsing Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) in the state’s 4th Congressional District after opponent Deborah Flora called Fish’s removal a “violation of the First Amendment.”

In a post responding to Flora’s criticism, the state party accused her of “boot licking fake journalists who only help Democrats.”

Fish said she is undeterred by her ejection.

“I’m going to cover the contests that I’m assigned, and I’m going to show up for debates and other activities,” she said. “I’m just going to show up.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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