Ironic twist: Missouri legislators want to banish journalists from Senate floor – where they have traditionally occupied their own table – because Ron Richards, Senate Leader Pro Tem, was “angry after an incident last year in which a private conversation between senators was posted to a social media site by an individual sitting at the press table.” Guess he thinks the Senate floor, arguably a public space , is instead a “safe space” for senatorial chit-chat.
Personally, I’m inclined agree that posting a overheard conversation was not ethical in the strictest sense unless the reporters contacted those involved for more follow-up, but, you know, that’s just me. I don’t actually know the rules journalists follow in these cases and believe that journalistic standards of ethical behavior, whatever they are, should prevail in the absence of other guidelines. At least most journalism schools advertise that they teach ethical standards for journalists which is more than we can say about the practices of Missouri lawmakers who have shown themselves resistant to delineating any ethical standards to govern the free-for-all over which they preside.
I also agree that Mizzou Professor, Melissa Cllick, was probably out of bounds to try to banish journalists from a public space during the protests earlier this fall, although I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that over a hundred Missouri lawmakers, those same fellows who are chagrined by the violation of their safe space on the publicly owned and maintained floor of the Statehouse, are willing to sign a letter to the Mizzu administration demanding that Click be fired. Seems to me it’s up to the administration to determine the appropriate punishment – which they did, and which seems more than adequate given the ambiguity of the situation.
That ambiguity stems from the perception of public space. Can one can designate a private area in the midst of a public access area? The quad where the students were gathered is a public access area and the consensus seems to be that one cannot establish private areas there. Yet no one would argue that journalists have be admitted to private meetings in areas designated private even in public buildings, offices, say, and certainly not in businesses or homes. Click was attempting to bar journalists from a specific part of that quad where protesters had gathered to regroup and strategize, not activities that one necessarily wants reported. It seems to be a bit gray to me and certainly doesn’t require that Click be sentenced to the ninth circle of hell.
By the same measure does the floor of the Senate constitute a public area or not? Can conversations held within hearing distance of journalists be considered privileged because they take place in a “private” aura? Ron Richards clearly thinks so. Democratic Senator Jill Schupp doesn’t think so. Doesn’t look like it to me either. There’s that “grayness” thing. But if a university quad is considered public and the the floor of the Senate, where the public’s business is – publicly – done, isn’t, something is seriously wrong somewhere.
It’s likely that lawmakers often talk about things that involve us all and that we can be said to have a much greater vested interest in learning about than the discussions of a group of demonstrators whose actions were being copiously reported.It leads one to ask just what Ron Richards and his GOP colleagues are so worried about the public learning if journalists have access to their on-floor shenanigans. Last minute arm-bending or lobbyist largess, or should I say “committee contributions,” when the vote is close? Or maybe just the latest juicy gossip about carrying-ons and business-as-usual in our Republican legislature?
I can’t see much difference between the temper tantrum that Richards is throwing and the somewhat overheated behavior of Melissa Click. Shouldn’t somebody organize a letter-writing party to try and get Ron Richards fired? (Or do we have to wait for an election?) Don’t most of us agree that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?