Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman, 406/542-4400 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS - Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White acted irresponsibly and unconscionably when he and his staff barred two Plain Dealer reporters from a news conference, says the Society of Professional Journalists.
On Wednesday, May 23, members of the mayor's staff escorted Plain Dealer politics reporter Mark Naymik and photographer David Andersen out of a news conference where White announced he would not run for re-election.
The conference - which The Plain Dealer journalists were told was by "invitation only" - was attended by all of the Cleveland area's media outlets except The Plain Dealer and conducted in the cafeteria of a public elementary school.
"I would like to think that a mayor of any city would uphold the dignity of his office," said Ray Marcano, SPJ president and an assistant managing editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "But it appears Mayor White is more interested in being petty by singling out a newspaper that's simply doing its job of informing the public. These childish tactics could also be illegal because you can't bar a reporter from an event in a public place. Mayor White should immediately abandon his outrageous practice of excluding Cleveland Plain Dealer reporters from news events simply because he doesn't like what they've written."
White has repeatedly complained about the coverage of city hall in The Plain Dealer. Before the conference on Wednesday morning, White's press secretary Brian Rothenberg refused to confirm to Naymik when and where the mayor's news conference would be.
When The Plain Dealer journalists showed up despite lack of confirmation and twice tried to enter the news conference, Rothenberg and other members of White's staff escorted Naymik and Andersen out.
"The mayor's behavior is disappointing and is beneath what we should expect from the chief executive of a major American city," said Douglas Clifton, editor of The Plain Dealer. "My hope is that it was a momentary lack of good judgment."
A founding belief of SPJ, the nation's largest and most broad-based journalism organization, is the free practice of journalism, and the Society strongly supports The Plain Dealer's duty to cover the city's government activities.
"I'm not sure what Mayor White hoped to gain from barring The Plain Dealer from his news conference. I've never considered arrogance, spite or vindictiveness as laudable attributes in an elected official," said Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman and special projects coordinator for KPAX-TV in Montana. "Not to mention the naked contempt the mayor obviously feels for the news media's role in informing citizens about public business. Mayor White had best remember that he's not a private citizen yet and still has the obligation to endure public and media scrutiny until the day he leaves office."