MADISON, Wis. (CN) – A Wisconsin-based conservative think tank claims in a federal lawsuit that Democratic Governor Tony Evers has barred its reporters from press events, favoring journalists from left-wing news outlets instead.
Calling itself “the free market voice for Wisconsin,” the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy alleges in a complaint filed late Tuesday in Madison federal court that Evers and his staff targeted it and excluded reporters for the MacIver News Service from media events while extending invitations to liberal-leaning outlets, in violation of MacIver reporters’ free speech and equal protection rights.
According to the lawsuit, the MacIver News Service is credentialed as part of the capitol press corps in Madison but Evers refuses to add it to his administration’s media list. The think tank claims it received no response after asking to be added to the list and “have never received a media advisory of an upcoming event by the governor,” in the six months since he took office.
The MacIver Institute asserts that being frozen out of media advisories has made it “practically impossible” for its reporters to attend the governor’s public events, and takes issue with the fact that the Evers administration’s media list “includes a number of journalists with decidedly left-leaning editorial stances.” The complaint names Madison-based outlets The Progressive and The Capital Times as examples, and also points out that the list includes “staff from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Democratic legislative offices, and left-wing advocacy groups like One Wisconsin Now.”
The group’s complaint details an instance in February when its reporters were barred from entering a press briefing on the forthcoming budget.
Having not received the email invitation that 26 other members of the press corps did, two of MacIver’s journalists, including news director Bill Osmulski, went directly to the conference room where the briefing was taking place after being alerted of it by a colleague in the press corps, where they were allegedly denied access.
“Watching their colleagues in the press corps file by, they were told that they were not on the RSVP list and that the senior staff member in the governor’s office who could permit their access was not available to talk to them,” the complaint states. “Numerous messages and requests via email and voicemail asking the governor’s communications staff for a conversation to discuss were unreturned.”
The group claims that by excluding MacIver News Service, “the governor’s office made it substantially harder for these journalist to report the news in a timely, thorough manner.”
The MacIver Institute is asking the court to declare Evers’ actions excluding them from press functions unconstitutional and to enjoin the administration from further limiting their access.
Daniel Suhr, the MacIver Institute’s counsel with the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, stressed in a phone interview that “this isn’t a case only about MacIver, this is a case that is important for every citizen of Wisconsin.”
“Our government works best when we have accountable public figures,” Suhr said, adding that “as elected officials, you don’t get to pick and choose the journalists that cover you.”
Suhr emphasized that reporters need to be able to be able to be in attendance at press events to do their job and that “everybody, regardless of editorial viewpoint, should have the same access.”
Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in a statement Wednesday that the Evers administration “provides many opportunities for both reporters and the public to attend open events with the governor.”
“Gov. Evers is committed to openness and transparency in state government, and he believes strongly that a fair and unbiased press corps is essential to our democracy, especially now as Wisconsinites and all Americans are calling for accountability from elected officials who refuse to take action on gun safety reform, health care, and the hatred and violence borne of white supremacy,” she wrote in an email.