News reporter barred from Romney campaign event Wednesday for “guilt by association” with talk show host
Post by Christie Taylor on 8/23/2012 3:35pm
After attempting to enter an appearance by Sen. Ron Johnson Wednesday at the Monona Terrace, WTDY political reporter Dylan Brogan was told he could not cover the event, which was open to the press and which Brogan said reporters from WKOW and WRN attended.
Johnson's appearance was a campaign event on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Ben Sparks, communications director for the Romney campaign in Wisconsin, said he had made the decision based on recent protest actions of WTDY employee John “Sly” Sylvester, who hosts the progressive talk show “Sly in the Morning,” and who appears frequently at labor events. Sylvester recently protested an event in Janesville where Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Paul Ryan were scheduled to speak.
Brogan was rolling tape when the confrontation occurred at the Terrace. You can listen on WTDY’s website. “He reflects poorly on you, you work for that organization, and you suffer the consequences,” Sparks said at the time, adding that Brogan was “guilty by association.”
On his show on July 30, Sylvester described the event, where he joined protesters outside Ryan/Romney headquarters in Janesville, where Sen. Ron Johnson was speaking about trade policy. Sylvester said he’d been asked to leave the property, but he and other protestors did not do so until police were called and asked them to move--"illegal behavior," Sparks said.
In Wednesday's incident, Brogan was escorted out of the building by a police officer and a Monona Terrace official. WTDY News director Amy Barilleaux said Brogan had hoped to wait outside the door and talk to Johnson as he left the event.
Barilleaux said she had filed a complaint with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and that the news team would continue to cover political events to the best of their ability. She said that because Sylvester and the news team often discussed the same topics and interviewed the same guests, listeners sometimes did mistakenly think there was a link between the newsgathering and editorializing sides of the station.
“The Romney campaign can choose which media they allow into private events,” Barilleaux said. “I know it can be confusing for some listeners to understand that Sly in the Morning and WTDY News are two different entities.”
However, she said, she didn’t think this instance was about confusion. “I think he's well aware that Dylan has always been respectful at every event, Dem or Republican,” she said. “I e-mailed Ben Sparks right after the Janesville protest explaining Sly does not have any influence, that we are all separate for all intents and purposes. As far as I’m aware, we received an invitation to this event, and we’ll continue to go to the events that are open to the press.”
Brogan himself noted that press access to events is key for political reporters who want to press candidates to explain their positions or back up claims that they might not voluntarily. “I frequently don’t get called back,” Brogan said. “These events are the one opportunity we have to ask these tough questions.”
Brogan said Sparks had known he would be coming to Wednesday’s event, and had given him no advance notice that he would not be allowed in.
Sparks would not comment on when or whether the restriction would be lifted, and said Brogan’s behavior at past events for which he was credentialed had not itself been problematic. “This isn’t punitive, it’s a precaution,” he said. The station will still be allowed to cover public events, he added.
In a phone call with Dane101 Thursday, he said the same standards would be applied to any other outlet equally. “Any outlet that engages in illegal activity (referring to Sylvester’s refusal to leave private property) at one of our events will not be given access. Period."
Full disclosure: Christie Taylor has done freelance work for WTDY in the past.
Christie Taylor (@ctaylsaurus) covers science, environment, and, depending on the season, state politics for dane101. She verbs a lot of nouns, including rollerskates, radio, and Kurt Vonnegut. A Madison native, she's not sure she'll ever quite manage to leave Wisconsin, and that's just fine by her. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.