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Sunday, April 13, 2008

St Cloud Times Editorial Comes Down Hard on 6th District Republican Party Audio/Video Ban

St Cloud Times:

Ask the editor: Audio, video ban is troubling
Published: April 13. 2008 12:30AM

Good morning, St. Cloud area.

An early morning call to the executive editor on April 5 prompts this column.

The call was from Times reporter Lawrence Schumacher, who was covering the 6th Congressional District GOP nominating convention at the Schwan Center at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

Schumacher had been told by 6th Congressional District Republican Party Chairman Mark Swanson that no video cameras or audio recording devices were allowed in the hall. All those entering the meeting area, including journalists, were barred from shooting video or recording audio of the convention speeches.

The order came from the Minnesota 6th District Republicans executive board.

This was a strange situation but another and growing example of what journalists have to battle in our effort to cover news.

In today's media world, reporters can do their work using more than a notebook and pen. Our staffers can cover a news story with words, still photos, audio and video. These restrictions on what equipment reporters can use is an abridgment of the journalist's effort to cover the news.

The reasons for the audio/video ban are baffling.

It appears that Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Republican incumbent, has shown up in several videos in less than flattering ways because people altered the video. To avoid giving people more fodder to make fun of the first-term House member, the district's executive committee decided to block any audio or video from the convention sessions.

The committee also decided to bar video and audio because more than 90 people were scheduled to go to the microphones and speak during the endorsement sessions, Swanson said. Some of those people may have been nervous and said things they later regretted, Swanson said.

He compared it to a family picnic. And you don't want news cameras showing up at a family picnic, he said.

So Schumacher covered the event with a live blog and wrote a story for print and online ... without video or audio clips of the speeches. He did do a video in the hallways, which was allowed by Swanson. To his credit, Swanson appeared in the video and explained his decision. That was a good thing.

The state's Open Meeting laws don't apply to private party endorsement conventions. And again, we were allowed to cover the event, just not with video or audio.

Also, it is important to note that neither Bachmann nor her staff were consulted on the decision about barring video and audio from the sessions. Swanson and Bachman's press secretary, Stephen Miller, both told me that Bachmann wasn't involved in the decision.

My question to Miller: Did the congresswoman support the decision to bar video and audio? Unfortunately, I was unable to get in contact with Bachmann for this column. The next time we have a chance to chat I plan to ask her.

I hope Michele Bachmann does get this question asked directly, and there is a follow up column that gives her answer.

Again, I share this story with readers because 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.

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. Since when are district nominating conventions to pick a candidate to run for the U.S. House not a news event the public needs to know about in an unfettered and unrestricted manner?

That's what I've always thought, and is part of the reason I've gone and covered various district conventions.

Most of the time candidates and political parties want all the coverage they can get.

A final note: After the story was reported, 6th District DFL Party Chairwoman Nancy Schumacher contacted our reporter Lawrence Schumacher (no relation) this week and invited him to cover their convention April 26 in Andover and to bring his video equipment and talk to whomever he wanted.

Kudos to Nancy Schumacher.

From the story chat:

My thinking is you can't "look foolish" if you don't say something foolish, even though some of the context may get lost in the editing process.
Media report excerpts from speeches all the time. If you don't want to look like a fool, don't talk like one. As Mr. Bodette suggests, it does seem troubling to put these kinds of restrictions on the media.

But what I also find troubling is why no Republican opposed Mrs. Bachmann for the nomination? Clearly, the party leaders are aware that Mrs. Bachmann is a loose cannon who says stupid things (hence the ban on video at the nominating convention), yet she was endorsed unanimously.
In my opinion, that reflects negatively on the party. Hopefully, it's not too late to do something about it.

Lifelong St. Cloudite from St. Cloud
Comment Posted: 4/13/2008 6:04:15 AM

Maybe "Deep Throat" should think about her behavior and the impact it has on potential videos rather than not allowing video coverage. Even though the executive committee is taking the fall for this decision, they usually do what the candidate wants them to do.

Earth Angel
Comment Posted: 4/13/2008 7:15:46 AM

We can thank people like Avidor from Minneapolis (not the 6th district), for he made a "cottage industry" out of grotesquely skewering videos and posting them on UTube and on chat sites around the nation.

Karl from Stillwater, MN
Comment Posted: 4/13/2008 8:49:48 AM

Four points:

  1. Some of you need to get a clue as to what political satire is about. What Avidor and others do with images and video is no different than what a good editorial cartoonist does with caricatures. What's next--a ban on sketch pads in conventions because someone might draw an unflattering cartoon of her highness?

  2. The reason behind all this is a fear of Michele Bachmann looking foolish on camera. Yet we're supposed to believe that neither Bachmann nor anyone associated with her had anything to do with this decision? Right.

  3. What is Bachmann going to do--and more importantly, what is the media going to do--once the campaign is underway and debates are held in public venues? Will Bachmann try to impose a ban on video cameras at all parades this summer?

  4. When the editor asks Bachmann about this, he might also ask her why she has not held one single public forum for constituents since her election. What is she hiding from?

It's worth noting the 3rd District DFL convention allowed media and blogs to video tape, and Michael Brodkorb was blogging from Minnesota Democrats Exposed, and Mark Drake Spokesman for the Republican Party of Minnesota was there. Brodkorb explained why Drake went to the convention:

Drake attended the convention so he could provide comment to the media immediately after the DFL endorsed a candidate. This is great bracketing by Drake and the MN GOP.


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