Why do reporters accept being penned up?

Reporters covering Hillary Clinton's participation in a Fourth of July parade in Gotham, New Hampshire

Reporters covering Hillary Clinton’s participation in a Fourth of July parade in Gotham, New Hampshire

For decades, reporters who travel with Presidential candidates have been denied the right of ordinary spectators to move about freely at campaign events.

The Secret Service and the candidates’ own security people deny them the right to mingle with crowds.  Instead they restrict them to observing campaign events from special roped-off or fenced-off areas.

Such restrictions apply only to members of the national press corps traveling with the President.  The local press is usually free to sit in the audience and take notes.

This has no logical relation to protecting the candidates from threats, except to the degree a candidate regards free reporting is a threat.  Any restrictions that were necessary to the personal safety of a candidate would logically apply to everyone, not just members of the national press corps.

What is the legal basis for this?  Why don’t newspapers and broadcasters protest on Constitutional grounds?

The basis for it is that broadcast and print journalists depend on the candidates to provide them with transportation and the communications facilities they need to do their jobs.  Without that help, they or their employers would have to buy their own airline tickets, find places to recharge their computers and cameras and set up their own communications for writings and pictures.

More importantly, the candidates control access.  Reporters need to be able to talk to the candidates and the candidates’ staffs, and they won’t get this access unless the candidates see some benefit in giving it.  If you’re a reporter, you don’t just need access.  You need as much access as your main competitor.

So candidates have many means of punishing reporters they consider hostile or even out of line.   Some keep the press on a tight rein, some on a loose rein, but the reins are always there.

Ideally, reporters would spend less time covering campaign speeches and more time digging up information that voters can use to make informed decisions.

What have the candidates done in life?  What do they stand for?  What are their records?  Who works for their campaigns?  Who pays for their campaigns?  What do their supporters hope to get in return?

It would take a lot more to answer these questions than cover campaign speeches.

Unfortunately such an effort probably would not be cost-effective in terms of building newspaper circulation or television viewership, compared to, say, covering the entertaining Republican “debates”.

So people who want to be well-informed need to search out the information they need for themselves.

LINKS

How Donald Trump Bent Television to His Will by Kyle Blaine for BuzzFeed.  Hat tip to Kevin Drum.  [added later]

Trump Bullies the Press—and the Press Yawns by Eric Boehlert for Media Matters.

The Press Are Upset About Trump’s Media Restrictions.  They Don’t Care About Clinton’s or Obama’s by Robert Kraychik for The Daily Wire.

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Photo credit: Maggie Haberman on Twitter.

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