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Govt. Officials Escort Reporters to Bathroom
A story in Politico caught my eye because of the familiar ring. Reporters covering the House Democrats’ retreat in Philadelphia complained about their tight rein.
“It was a police state. It was absurd how heavy handed the capitol police and Democratic staff were in trying to control everywhere the press went,” New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters said in an interview.
From 2008 concern that Swedish legislation known as the Lex Orwell could turn Sweden into a sort of surveillance society. Cop jacket reads “FRA is listening to you!” Cartoon by Carlos Latuff, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s not uncommon. I recalled my astonishment when, not long ago while covering a Health and Human Services (HHS) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) conference in a public federal building for CBS News, I was escorted to the bathroom each time I needed to visit it throughout the course of the day. Once there, the government minder did not leave me to my own devices, but stood outside the bathroom door to escort me back. Meantime, non-press attendees–government employees and academics –were allowed to go to the bathroom unencumbered.
The federal government is increasingly invasive when it comes to reporters doing their jobs. In the past, I have been allowed to receive background briefings from federal officials, one-on-one. But I can’t remember the last time I received information directly from a federal official without a press minder from the public affairs office listening in as a requirement, occasionally interrupting or ending answers to questions that apparently were not headed in the right direction.
In the instance of the Democrats’ retreat, the New York Times’ Peters told Politico: “he was told by a staffer they were being escorted to prevent them from talking to members of Congress.”
It should be concerning to all when government officials increasingly separate themselves from exposure to the public they serve and the press that is supposed to help hold them accountable.
2008 December: President Obama nominates Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. 2009 Jan. 13: Reports say the clintonemail.com domain was established. Jan. 21: Senate confirms Clinton as secretary of state. March 18: Clinton will later name this as the date she began using a private server for government business. 2012 Sept. 11: Islamic extremists launch […]