Capitol Perspectives: Parson's Attacks on Statehouse Reporters
By Phill Brooks
Missouri's Gov. Mike Parson has engaged in escalating restrictions against journalists covering Missouri's Capitol.
His hindrances on statehouse reporters is unprecedented in the five decades I've covered Missouri state government.
From Warren Hearnes until now, governors of both parties I've covered went out of their way to facilitate the efforts of journalists covering state government.
But Mike Parson has taken the opposite approach.
His hostility to the news media emerged shortly after taking office in 2018.
During the COVID pandemic, Parson regularly lashed out at reporters who asked questions he avoided at press conferences.
Eventually, he flatly refused to answer any questions from a Missouri Independent reporter and instead attacked the organization's nonprofit contributors.
Parson's hostility to journalists became far more serious when he sought a criminal investigation of a Post-Dispatch reporter for his story about a major Education Department security breach on its web site.
Predictably, the governor's efforts for criminal charges went nowhere.
Next, Parson's administration cut the number of statehouse parking spaces around the Capitol designated for reporters leaving fewer spaces than the number of statehouse reporters.
Compounding the problem is that the spaces now are identified only with an unenforced, generic "News Media" sign rather than a sign designating a specific news organization as prior administrations provided to assure enforcement.
This is not a trivial issue because it can be a hindrance for statehouse reporters to cover Missouri government, particularly when a Capitol reporter arrives mid-day to cover a breaking news story only to discover all the "News Media" parking slots have been taken.
Realize, public Capitol parking spots and surrounding streets often are jammed and have enforced time limits.
The latest assault on the efficiency of statehouse journalists to cover state government has been the administration's revocation of Capitol building passes issued to statehouse journalists for immediate access to the Capitol without waiting in line to pass through metal detectors.
The administration's explanation for revoking building passes to reporters with Capitol offices is that there are too many Capitol building passes.
That makes little sense.
I suspect there are far fewer reporters with offices in the Capitol than the number of private employees working in the Capitol with building passes.
Now, all statehouse reporters must go through a security entrance that can be horribly long when school groups or protesters are lined up for clearance to get into the building.
Compounding the problem is that those security entries are closed in the evening unless a legislative chamber or committee remains in session.
That policy assumes that news in the Capitol occurs only during business hours or during legislative sessions.
That definitely is not the case, as demonstrated by my ability to enter the Capitol basement garage late evening in 2000 when KMOX got a tip that Mel Carnahan had been involved in a plane crash.
Sure enough, Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson arrived in a car driven by a Highway Patrol trooper who parked in the spot reserved exclusively for the governor. Wilson silently nodded his head in confirmation of the obvious.
Indeed, shortly later that night the constitutional Disability Board transferred the governor's powers to Wilson.
The importance of after-hours access to the Capitol for news coverage extends beyond such tragic incidents.
Returning to the Capitol after sessions adjourn and legislators have had dinner provides a productive time for a reporter to wander Capitol hallways and seek out returning lawmakers for more relaxed and thoughtful conversations as I so often discovered.
Also, consider a reporter who leaves the Capitol after a late-night session adjourned to have dinner with family only to be blocked from returning to the reporter's Capitol office to complete a story or retrieve a document in the office.
So much for the respect of family values for the spouses and children of statehouse reporters.
By way of background, Missouri's Capitol News Association was founded in 1988 to provide government a method to identify journalists of legitimate news organizations in allocation of limited Capitol resources.
Both the House and Senate, along with the Office of Administration before Parson, accepted our organization's certifications.
Our association bylaws and standards are modeled after the national Standing Committee of Correspondents in Washington created in 1879 to determine who qualifies as "bona fide correspondents" for access to congressional press galleries.
As I discussed this column with a fellow congressional reporter of the past, we reflected how different are the restrictions of Parson's administration for journalists from what we experienced in both parking and access for journalists to the U.S. Capitol to facilitate the public's right to know about their government.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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