For years, the Republican campaign style has been increasingly restrictive.
George W. Bush started it all. McCain, Palin, and others who followed fine-tuned the information control tactics-- requiring pre-registration and tickets for political events, banning political signs, and requiring pre-approved questions.
During the 2010 elections, this trend evolved into paid admission for political events (not just fundraising events), few if any audience questions, and elimination of photography and videotaping. Teapublicans in 2010 became so hostile to the press-- or anyone who challenged their ideas-- that physical dust-ups occurred. (Does anyone remember Joe Miller?)
Fast forward to the 2012 elections and we see a disturbing trend: Democrats adopting Republican information control techniques. The most recent incident was May 26 at a Cochise County Democratic Party Candidates Forum. US Senate candidates Dr. David Ruben and Dr. Richard Carmona were scheduled to speak, along with Jeremy Lasher, Southern Arizona Field Organizer for the Ron Barber campaign.
A beautiful day in Sierra Vista, local Democrats gathered in the shade for a picnic and political speeches. Everything was sunny until video blogger and Cochise County Democratic Party Precinct Committee (PC) Person Alison McLeod started videotaping the speeches. The first hint of a problem came when Lasher covered his face with a clipboard and muttered something about Facebook, as he entered the backyard of a private home where the candidates’ forum was being held. (You can see him and his clipboard in the video below.)
McLeod successfully filmed Ruben's speech and mingling local Democrats, but when Carmona started his standard stump speech, campaign operative and Communications Director Andy Barr insisted that she stop filming. The situation degenerated to the point where a Cochise County Democrat covered the lens of McLeod's camera and asked her to leave.
In an era where many citizens carry the Internet and a video camera in their pockets, this attempt to control distribution of messages is naive at best and heavy-handed at worst. For a candidate who touts transparency, it is ill-advised for Carmona to allow his staff to deny press coverage of speeches and activities.
Yes, this event was held in the backyard of a private home, but it was a Democratic Party event (not a private party), candidates delivered campaign speeches, and it was freely publicized on the Internet. From the Cochise County Democratic Party website...
Upcoming Activities and Events
- Monday, April 30, 2012, Cochise County Democratic Committee meeting Democratic Office, 1010 E. Fry Blvd., Sierra Vista - 6:00 PM.
- Saturday, May 5, 2012, West End Fair - Fry Blvd., Sierra Vista, 11:00AM – 6:00 PM
- Saturday, May 26, 2012, May Fundraiser Picnic and Candidates Forum - more details to follow
In my opinion, this candidates’ forum was a public event, and McLeod had every right as a citizen journalist-- not to mention a Democratic Party PC and a Carmona supporter-- to film the speeches and publish them.
McLeod and I have videotaped and published stories about candidate speeches at multiple Democratic Party events with no restrictions... until Barr joined the Carmona campaign and instituted new press rules. Barr informed each of us (on separate occasions) that the press is not allowed to attend and cover certain campaign events.
Although McLeod's run-in with Barr occurred at a Democratic Party event in the backyard of a private home, mine occurred after a Democratic Party event at Hotel Congress several weeks ago. The day after I filmed the 30-minute speech (excerpted here and published here), I got a call from Barr. Having worked in public relations for many years, I assumed he was being a conscientious media relations person and following up to see if I needed more information before publishing my story. (At the event, I had introduced myself as a blogger for the Tucson Citizen and the Huffington Post to Carmona, who seemed totally cool about everything, and chatted with me for a few minutes as a dozen other people snapped pictures—and probably shot cell phone video.)
Unfortunately, Barr was following up to tell me I should not have attended the event and should not have filmed it because the press was not allowed to attend. I was shocked, really, and told him that I was invited to the event and had RSVP’d; I assumed I was invited because I am a political blogger and videographer. In our multi-e-mail exchange, I warned Barr that in Southern Arizona, there’s a blogger with a video camera around every corner and that the campaign should just deal with it… instead of trying to fight it. How can the campaign invite the party faithful to hear Carmona’s message and weed out the bloggers and video enthusiasts? They can’t, and trying makes them look naïve.
In actuality, seven of Tucson’s most prolific political bloggers are (or have been) Democratic Party PCs—Three Sonorans, Poco Bravo, AZ Blue Meanie, Mike Bryan, Dave Safir, Tedski, and moi. Many of those guys are (or have been) on the Pima County Democratic Party Executive Committee and/or the Arizona Democratic Party Statewide Committee. Also, there are blogging PCs in Maricopa County and elsewhere in the state.
In an era where regular newspapers cover a fraction of the news they used to and television news shows have been reduced to book tour publicity venues and celebrity news, citizens need social media, blogs, and alternative news sources to be informed.
Dr. Carmona, in the spirit of President Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to mail newspapers to every American, let the press be free.