Keeping in tune with the tenor of much of his campaign, incoming governor Bruce Rauner continues to court controversy by limiting press access to a number of inaugural events and ceremonies due to take place today.
While many events on the schedule remain open to the press, others, such as Monday’s Interfaith Breakfast and the Inaugural Dinner, are scheduled to be covered only by a pool reporter for the Associated Press.
While it’s standard practice for campaigns and incoming administrations to seek to manage press coverage whenever possible, the Chicago Sun-Times reports some longtime Illinois political observers are calling the level of press unavailability “unprecedented.”
When a Sun-Times reporter sent an email asking what “limited media” meant and whether all media outlets were to be shut out except the AP for those events, Rauner’s spokesman responded that they could “make them closed entirely.”
“You are members [of AP] aren’t you? There is NOT ENOUGH ROOM. This is the thanks we get for opening events that previously have never been opened before,” wrote Rauner’s transition spokesman Mike Schrimpf. “We can make them closed entirely if you prefer that instead.”
Throughout the months-long campaign and into the transition period, the Rauner camp gained a reputation for keeping members of the political media on a short leash. Throughout the campaign, reporters complained of difficulty in gaining access to the candidate and finding out basic information about Rauner’s agenda on key issues.
The matter reached perhaps its low point in October, when allegations of interference on behalf of the campaign led to the resignation of Sun-Times Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney.
Whether or not the Rauner administration keeps the press at arm’s length throughout the next four years remains to be seen, of course. Yet, some observers are already sounding the alarm that in adopting a confrontational stance with members of the media, the Rauner administration is likely to do itself few favors down the road.
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said he had never heard of an incoming governor controlling access in the way Rauner plans to do.
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“The danger in this is they look like they have something to hide and they really don’t,” Yepsen said. “We’re talking about a cocktail party here. There’s no reason for access to be limited unless there’s a space problem. It’s hard to understand how there’s even a space problem.”