In banishing reporters, Kansas Senate joins destructive GOP trend

January 14, 2022 1:00 pm

Senate spokesman Mike Pirner explains to Statehouse reporters John Hanna and Martin Hawver they can’t sit at the table for reporters on the Senate floor during the 2022 session. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Senate leadership’s decision to bar reporters from the floor during debate should trouble everyone who values a free and fair press in the Sunflower State. Unfortunately, the ramifications spread further and should trouble concerned citizens across the country.

To put it bluntly, this move appears to be part of a multistate effort on behalf of Republican powerbrokers to target the news media. In Iowa, for example, the state senate has done the same thing as Kansas — evicting reporters from the floor, where they had co-existed more or less peacefully with legislators for more than 140 years.

“The new rule denies reporters access to the press benches near senators’ desks, a proximity current and former statehouse reporters told The Washington Post is crucial for the most accurate and nuanced coverage,” the Post reported last week, while also summarizing why the access is so important. “The position allows reporters to see and hear everything clearly on the Senate floor and to get real-time answers and clarifications during debates.”

Both states have launched a coordinated attack on accurate information.

The Republican National Committee has gotten into the act too, according to The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman. The GOP has complained for years that its presidential candidates are treated unfairly in debates. By that, of course, they mean asked tough questions by impartial moderators in front of a national audience.

Thus, the RNC “is preparing to change its rules to require presidential candidates seeking the party’s nomination to sign a pledge to not participate in any debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.”

These attacks make sense as the once proud Republican Party remakes itself in the shape of former President Donald Trump. Remember, it was Trump who called our nation’s free press — one of its proudest accomplishments — “the enemy of the American people.”

Conservatives have created a separate information ecosystem, one based on partisan hyperbole and outright falsehoods, to feed their sense of grievance and entitlement. As traditional news media has raced to adapt to the challenges of social media and changing reading and viewing habits, these alternative outlets have been more than happy to warp our country’s information landscape.

Traditional media, and the kind of rigorous reporting and informed commentary that we provide, challenges those who would bamboozle the public. No matter the party or the legislation, we report the news. What’s happened in Kansas, Iowa and on the national stage will make that tougher.

That, sadly, appears to be the point.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.