I keep watching the degeneration of Scott DesJarlais’ campaign with a great deal of interest. It amazes me that when I think that the news train, which has stayed in the media longer than I thought it would, might slow down, he and his staff go one step forward to keep it in the headlines.
Alison Gerber takes DesJarlais to task this morning after one of his staffers threatened to block press access to reporters at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Their complaint was over an editorial cartoon published by Clay Bennett. She admits that the backlash on the controversial cartoon is part of managing the paper, and she has taken some licks for it, but at the end of the day, free speech has two sides of a very sharp sword.
Gerber plays hardball and explains not only the First Amendment in her editorial today but that free speech isn’t always pretty.
The congressman can retaliate against the newspaper by cutting off information to our reporters, but Sher and Carroll — two bulldog-ish reporters not easily intimidated — will still cover the race. If DesJarlais and his people won’t talk to the newspaper, we’ll still talk to his opponent, his supporters, his detractors and voters in his district.
Gasket-blowing over political cartoons is hardly a new thing. They’ve been steaming things up since, well, before the United States was even a country. They’ve also been shaping public opinion and influencing history.
An engraving by Paul Revere that depicted British troops firing on unarmed Colonials during the Boston Massacre of 1770 wasn’t exactly how the event happened. Still, it was widely circulated in the Colonies and is credited with stirring up anti-British sentiment.
And here is my take on this, when DesJarlais’ staffer tells Gerber, the managing editor of the Times Free Press, he’s angry and that reporters will be cut off from news stories, it really isn’t about that newspaper. It’s about blocking the public from information from an elected official and a public servant. DesJarlais once again has shown obvious disregard for his constituents. Gerber called him out on it. Good for her and, quite frankly, his staffer should have known better because he extended a very bad news cycle for his boss who is already in heap of trouble with the public right now.
There are lessons to learn here for other candidates. The news isn’t always going to be flattering but for God’s sake don’t make it worse by having one of your cronies throw gasoline on a burning fire. Temper tantrums don’t show any kind of leadership on any level, and as I have said before, news is news and you aren’t always going to get your finely honed press release in the paper. Reporters are not paid to be your friend, they are an extension of the public’s trust and are the boots on the ground for their readers.
Gerber was right to educate DesJarlais’ staffer on the First Amendment and that free speech is messy but it’s the right every single American citizen in this country has.