A mockery of the freedom of the press

A MOCKERY OF THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS…. A couple of weeks ago, there was a report out of Florida explaining that McCain/Palin campaign officials had stifled the freedom of the press. Palin delivered a speech at a public park near Tampa, but journalists were told they were forbidden from talking to voters who attended the event.

It was an unusual twist. It’s unnerving that the campaign doesn’t want reporters to talk to the Sarah Palin, but it’s worse to insist that reporters can’t talk to Sarah Palin’s supporters either.

When pressed for an explanation, one of the escorts/minders said the restrictions were intended to prevent “negative” stories, as if that were a legitimate rationale.

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank added some details.

I have to say the Secret Service is in dangerous territory here. In cooperation with the Palin campaign, they’ve started preventing reporters from leaving the press section to interview people in the crowd. This is a serious violation of their duty — protecting the protectee — and gets into assisting with the political aspirations of the candidate. It also often makes it impossible for reporters to get into the crowd to question the people who say vulgar things. So they prevent reporters from getting near the people doing the shouting, then claim it’s unfounded because the reporters can’t get close enough to identify the person.

Now, this is an important detail. I’d assumed the escorts/minders were paid campaign staffers, but Milbank explained that it’s the Secret Service that’s blocking reporters from chatting with voters. If that’s the case, we’re talking about a rather obvious First Amendment violation.

But what I’d really like to see is some reporters ignore the mandated restrictions. Why on earth would an independent journalist play along with these ridiculous rules?

Let’s say a reporter leaves the designated area and approaches a voter. If one of the escorts/minders tries to stop the reporter, he or she should just keep going. Would the Secret Service arrest a journalist for attempting to talk to a voter on public property? I doubt it, but even if an arrest were made, it’d be a public relations disaster for the campaign and the Secret Service — and a breakthrough for the free press.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.