Monday, April 11, 2016

Gowan's Three Attempts to Suppress the Press

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 3:13 PM

The story about House Speaker David Gowan's ruling that reporters who want to be on the floor with legislators have to submit to extensive background checks has been all over the news. Last I heard the ruling was still in effect Monday, and the reporters have all refused to submit. Gowan said he's asking for the background checks because, 9/11. Ridiculous. Everyone knows the reason is to take revenge against Capitol Times reporter Hank Stephenson who wrote about Gowan's misuse of state vehicles, which meant Gowan had to refund $12,000 to the state and is under investigation. Because Stephenson has a trespassing violation on his record, he would be barred from the floor under the new rules. This is a clear act of journalistic suppression by Gowan, letting reporters know they better not do any investigative journalism that uncovers improprieties committed by him or his buddies. 

The Capitol Times editor, Jim Small, wrote a piece saying this is the third time Gowan has gone after Stephenson because of his story. The first time was Jan. 8 of this year.
On Jan. 8, four hours after the story about Gowan’s use of fleet vehicles was published, Grisham rescinded the Capitol Times’ access to the media gallery on the opening day of the legislative session.

When I called [House Republican spokeswoman Stephanie] Grisham to get an explanation, she made no bones about the fact that the paper’s access had been pulled because of the story. She accused the paper of working for Chandler attorney Tom Ryan, who was quoted in the original story saying he intended to file a complaint against Gowan and the others for misusing the state vehicles.

“This can be worked out with attorneys. I’m not going to go any further,” she said before hanging up the phone in the middle of my follow-up question.
Pulling access from the Capitol Times, whose main reason for existence is to report on the Capitol, is a blatant and unquestionable act of revenge, especially since Grisham told the paper it had seats in the gallery the night before the story was published.

A month later, the Republicans went after Stephenson again.

Then in early February, the House’s attorney wrote a letter to Lamb outlining claims of “rude and inappropriate conduct” on the House floor by Stephenson. He was accused of a “consistent lack of decorum” since the session began, including that he regularly types on his computer during the chamber’s daily prayer, that he was overly aggressive when questioning elected officials and that he asked accusatory questions of Gowan and House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro.

Those claims had no basis in fact, as evidenced by witness testimony we secured and recordings of the interviews cited by the House attorney.

Not coincidentally, the letter came a day after Stephenson asked Montenegro about his use of a state vehicle to attend a July 2015 American Legislative Exchange Conference summit in San Diego.
Gowan's shameful actions are a high compliment to Hank Stephenson and the Capitol Times for doing what journalists are supposed to do, which is to search out and investigate relevant stories and report on them. And it's a frightening statement about how far members of the Republican majority are willing to go to assert their power and privilege. I include the other Republicans along with Gowan since they've given their silent assent by not speaking out against his attempt to punish journalists for doing their jobs and telling the truth. 

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