Update: After the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, other media outlets, and First Amendment organizations cried foul, the governor’s office relented and Mary Ellen Klas told First Amendment Watch that she was admitted to subsequent briefings.
A spokeswoman for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis refused to allow a reporter for a joint state capitol bureau for the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times to attend a press conference related to the coronavirus on March 28th.
Mary Ellen Klas, the bureau chief for the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau, was instead told she could watch the press conference from a live stream video feed, effectively preventing her from asking officials any questions.
The press briefing addressed COVID-19 testing, access to medicine, and plans to prevent New Yorkers from flying into the state. In addition to the governor, the conference included remarks from the lieutenant governor, the director of emergency management, and the state surgeon general.
Unable to pose questions in person, Klas shared some of her prepared questions on Twitter.
Want to know the questions @GovRonDeSantis didn’t want to get today, so he kept us out?
You are preparing four alternative hospitals to prepare for a surge in hospital capacity, please explain when Florida will reach its peak? What is the timeline?/thread
— Mary Ellen Klas (@MaryEllenKlas) March 28, 2020
In a video posted to Twitter, Klas can be heard asking if she was excluded from the meeting because she had asked officials to implement social distancing measures during press briefings. According to the Herald, Klas was one of a number of reporters who signed a letter asking the governor to conduct press briefings using Zoom, a free video-conferencing platform.
The Governor’s chief spokeswoman said in an email to the Herald that “a small group of reporters was invited to attend the briefing in an effort to respond to requests for social distancing” though she did not explain why only Klas had been barred from the conference.
“I asked for social distancing. I didn’t ask to be excluded,” Klas told the Herald.