Freedom of the press isn’t a partisan issue


By Mark Lisheron |

As Meg Kissinger found out Monday, it’s a much different world than the one she lived in when she went to work for her first newspaper 35 years ago.

Unless you live in Milwaukee or served on the dozens of panels who have showered awards on her, you wouldn’t know the reporter her old friends like me call Mugs. Back in the old days, when reporters didn’t have to worry about political correctness, Mugs was one of the guys, in the very best and most honorable meaning of the term.

NO CROSSING THE ROPES: Reporters were strongly discouraged from talking to attendees of a rally for Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, with special guest Michelle Obama.

This past Monday, Mugs went to the Milwaukee Center to cover a political rally for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel featuring Mary Burke, the Democrat running for governor, and her very special guest, Michelle Obama.

Prior to anyone taking the stage to speak, staff members for the Burke campaign and the first lady filtered out among the reporters and told them they were not to speak to anyone at the rally.

Mugs took her outrage to Facebook. “Never seen anything like it in 35 years as a reporter covering dozens of political events,” she wrote. “White House and Burke aides telling reporters we were not allowed to talk to the people on the other side of the rope. But that’s what reporters do: we talk to people. In America, that’s our job.”

Pardon me for saying this to an old and dear friend, but my first reaction to reading the post was, “Where have you been?” The second was to go to her rally story to see what she had to tell the general public.

And there it was. “Burke and White House staff also told reporters not to talk to people in the crowd before the event.” A single sentence. Paragraph 19.

To complete the It’s a Very New World picture, Mugs’ high dudgeon went viral, driven almost exclusively by conservative news outlets like National Review, NewsBusters and The Blaze.

Each in their way used Mugs’ indignation to take a partisan swipe at the Obama administration and Democrats like Burke.

The mainstream press has brought a lot of this on themselves. A president using a pen and phone to sidestep Congress and personally tell

A FAVORED CANDIDATE? Reporters might have wished to find out what voters thought about Gov. Scott Walker’s challenger, but the organizers of the Democratic rally put a lid on it,

people what to do is always more dashing and courageous when he’s telling other people what to do.

But this, several of Mugs’ equally outraged Facebook friends have suggested, is the press. No one is supposed to tell us what to do.

That is the big head-scratcher here. From nearly the day after he codified a campaign promise by announcing, “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” Obama has carefully built just the opposite.

James Risen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter currently being prosecuted by the federal government for refusing to disclose sources in a CIA whistleblower case, called the Obama administration “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.”

Reporters for are every day stonewalled by bureaucrats and politicians masquerading as public servants. They are denied access to events by liberal groups who divine malice in our requests for access and openness.

A double standard exists and the mainstream is silent. And so when you are seen by a hefty segment of the public as an accomplice to grotesque and dangerous government overreach it’s nigh on impossible to elicit righteous fury.

Righteous fury, however, is exactly what is needed and not only by the conservative press.

Almost 18 months ago when it was abundantly clear this administration intended to distance itself as far as possible from public scrutiny, I looked for an assessment from good government groups.

Nearly all were left-leaning, nearly all inclined to give the benefit of the doubt on access and transparency to this president. And all of them are profoundly disappointed in his performance.

This isn’t and never has been a partisan issue. The lessons of press timidity and complacency will not be lost on the Republican or Democratic administration that follows this one.

Reporters here at Watchdog are expected to call out officials elected and paid by taxpayers, regardless of party, for withholding what legally and constitutionally belongs to taxpayers. We wish everyone did it that way.

If that means becoming a loud, unruly, insistent part of the story, so be it. It’s an important part of the story.

One that shouldn’t be buried on Facebook or Paragraph 19.