Just who decides whether a reporter is “legitimate”? That question goes to the heart of a lawsuit filed by Salem Media Group, parent company of Townhall Media Group (and this website), against Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker. Amy Jacobson, a radio host and reporter for Salem’s Chicago affiliate, had regularly attended Pritzker’s briefings on COVID-19, questioning his hardline stance on movement and commerce. Jacobson found herself blocked from attending after reporting on the Pritzker family’s movements between Florida, Wisconsin, and Illinois, however, and Salem wants her access restored.
The Liberty Justice Center has taken up the case, which was filed this morning:
Veteran Chicago journalist Amy Jacobson and the news station she reports for, Salem Media, have filed a federal lawsuit against Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker after he announced Jacobson is no longer allowed at his media briefings.
The lawsuit, Salem Media of Illinois, LLC v. Pritzker, was filed today in the Northern District of Illinois. Attorneys also are asking the court to take immediate action to allow Jacobson back into the press briefings. The lawsuit was filed by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center, a public interest law firm that won the 2018 Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME.
Pritzker and his office have argued that Jacobson’s appearance at an anti-shutdown rally made her an “extremist.” They based that not on what she actually said at the rally, but on signs held by others — even though, as LJC notes, Jacobson explicitly rebuked those messages:
On Friday, May 15, Jacobson broke the story that Pritzker’s family had traveled to their equestrian estate in Wisconsin amid Illinois’ stay-at-home order — weeks after it was reported that his family was at another estate in Florida. The news raised questions about why the stay-at-home order did not apply to the governor’s family.
On the day of the governor’s next press briefing, Pritzker’s press secretary told Jacobson she was banned from the briefings because she had attended a rally advocating for Illinois to end its lockdown. When questioned by reporters about Jacobson’s exclusion the next day, Pritzker told the press corps that Jacobson could not attend because advocating for Illinois to end its stay-at-home order represents an “extreme position.” The governor went on to say: “That is not a reporter … once upon a time she was a reporter, but she proved that she is no longer a reporter.”
“Gov. Pritzker has been in the hot seat over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s visible from his reactions to Amy Jacobson’s questions that her reporting made him uncomfortable. But what the governor appears to not understand is that Americans have a right to hold their elected officials accountable, and one of the ways they do this is through a vibrant, free press,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center. “It’s not up to Gov. Pritzker to pick and choose which reporters can cover him based on how much he agrees with their coverage or their points of view. And keeping reporters out of the room because he disagrees with their line of questioning or point of view is a gross violation of the First Amendment.”
This was the e-mail Jacobson received from Pritzker’s staff two weeks ago barring her from attending any further briefings:
Two days prior to this e-mail on 5/18, however, Jacobson publicly scolded attendees for precisely this kind of behavior at the rally:
— Amy Jacobson (@AmyJacobson) May 16, 2020
This sets up a bizarre standard for access — or indeed for anyone who speaks at a public event. If one or two people show up with offensive signs, does that mean everyone gets canceled? If someone showed up with these signs at a Pritzker event, would he need to resign his office? The public protests over shutdown policies are legitimate, and especially after the last week of riots in the Twin Cities and around the country, look almost quaint in comparison.
Clearly, this is nothing more than some Chicagoland payback for getting under Pritzker’s skin. They’re not concerned that Jacobson is an extremist. They’re concerned that she’s effective.
Of note: Amy is a colleague and a friend, and she has been kind enough to have me as a guest on her morning show on WIND; in fact, I’ll be on tomorrow morning for a segment. Even apart from that, though, this kind of credentialism by government officials is offensive and dangerous. Left as precedent, elected officials like Pritzker would be able to surround himself with only friendly reporters reliably tossing softball questions, which isn’t in anyone’s interest. Will the same people who demanded Jim Acosta’s White House access be restored weigh in on Amy Jacobson’s ban from Pritzker’s briefings?