Reporter blocked from rally with first lady, free press groups cry foul
A Wisconsin reporter says he was blocked Tuesday from covering a Democratic rally in Madison headlined by first lady Michelle Obama — a week after another reporter claimed she was told at a similar event in Milwaukee not to speak with people in the crowd.
The latest incident has raised concerns from free press groups.
The reporter, Adam Tobias, works for Wisconsin Reporter — the Wisconsin arm of the news site Watchdog.org. He was trying to attend a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke and claimed to have submitted his request for credentials on Saturday, “shortly after the Burke campaign sent a news release outlining the logistics.”
But the reporter was told he could not attend, and videotaped his encounter with a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party on Monday.
Spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff initially did not give a reason for denying entry to Tobias. But when the reporter told her they would write a story on press being turned away, she suggested Watchdog.org was not part of the press.
“Well, you’re not the press though, so, thanks,” Baldauff said, closing the door.
Wisconsin Reporter is one of more than two-dozen state news organizations under the umbrella of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
Franklin Center President Jason Stverak blasted the state party for preventing the site from covering Tuesday’s rally — one of two Michelle Obama was headlining for Democratic candidates.
“The problem with our political process is a lack of transparency, and the most recent move by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is an affront to free speech and the freedom of the press,” he said in a statement. “Having said that, I think we understand what’s at work here: Wisconsin Reporter has broken some of the most important stories in the state, not all of them comfortable for the Democratic Party leadership. We will continue to report the truth, and we won’t be deterred by petty, partisan politics.”
According to Watchdog.org, free press groups voiced concern about the decision. “It seems to me that Wisconsin Reporter ought to be able to attend the event and report on it,” Mark Pitsch, president of the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said.
The incident comes after a reporter with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel claimed last week that she had an encounter with a White House aide during a separate Michelle Obama rally for Mary Burke.
Meg Kissinger, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, posted on Facebook that she was “creeped out” after she was told by a White House aide and an aide for Burke not to speak with people attending the event.
“This is what reporters do in America: we speak to people,” she wrote. “At least that’s how I’ve been doing things — at all kinds of political events — since 1979.”
Kissinger later said on Twitter that she did not comply with the aides’ rule, and spoke with “plenty” of crowd members. Her report from the event contained interviews with multiple crowd members.