News Gathering | Press Access

Conservative Think Tank Sues Wisconsin Governor For Denying Access To Press Briefings

Former U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the crowd during a campaign rally for Wisconsin democratic candidates, gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, (far left), Lt. Governor candidate Mandela Barnes, (left), and state treasurer candidate Sarah Godlewski, (right) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sara Stathas

Democratic Governor Tony Evers is being sued in federal court by MacIver Institute of Public Policy, a conservative think tank, over allegations that Evers denied its staffers access to press briefings, a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, alleges that since Evers took office in January, he has repeatedly refused to invite reporters from the think tank’s news arm, MacIver News Service, to press briefings.  The suit also claims that MacIver reporters don’t receive the press releases that other news organizations receive.

“The freedom of speech and of the press and equal protection include a right of equal access among journalists to generally available information and events. A public official may not target particular news outlets or journalists for exclusion from access made generally available to other media. To do so violates several constitutional doctrines, particularly the right to news-gathering and the prohibition against viewpoint discrimination,” reads the complaint.

According to some First Amendment experts, the MacIver Institute has a strong case. Robert Dreschel, a journalism professor and media law expert at University of Wisconsin-Madison, called the denial of access “troublesome.” “They have to be able to give some kind of reasons beyond just saying ‘Not you.’ Otherwise you do raise legitimate First Amendment questions,” Dreschel told the StarTribune.

President Donald Trump ran afoul of First Amendment protections for the press in November of 2018, when the White House revoked CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass. Acosta had been critical of the President’s policies in White House press briefings, but Trump said the reason the pass was revoked was because Acosta failed “to treat the White House with respect.” CNN sued, and after a two-week battle, the White House backed down and reinstated Acosta’s press pass.

StarTribune Complaint