Campaign staffers for presidential candidate Mitt Romney barred a local radio reporter from covering a Republican Wisconsin senator’s stump speech Wednesday on behalf of Romney because of the actions of one of the station’s on-air personalities.
Dylan Brogan, a reporter for WTDY Radio in Madison, was assigned to cover the appearance of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Johnson’s appearance was billed in a press release as a talk about Romney’s plan to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class.
The press release also stated that the event was open to the press.
But when Brogan arrived, campaign staffers told him to wait for Romney Wisconsin Communications Director Ben Sparks, who informed Brogan that he would not be allowed to cover the event because of a prior protest by the station’s morning talk show host, John "Sly" Sylvester, at a Romney campaign rally.
Sparks then called over local police on the scene to escort Brogan out of the building after he questioned the decision.
“I don’t think it helps to deny any reporters access to these kinds of events,” Brogan said. “I believe he’s conflating the actions of the morning show with the news end of the radio station, which are completely independent.”
Sylvester was among several dozen opposing protestors who apparently clashed at a Romney campaign rally late last month in Janesville, 40 miles southeast of Madison. Police were called to the scene to disperse the crowds but did not make any arrests, according to a local press report.
Following the Janesville campaign event, Brogan said he was not allowed onto the Romney campaign bus to interview the candidate.
According to Sparks, Sylvester’s actions make WTDY staff unwelcome at future private campaign events. Sparks noted, however, that the radio station will still be allowed to cover events held in public spaces.
“This isn’t a punishment, it’s a precaution,” Sparks said of the decision to lock the radio station’s staff out of private events. “If somebody engages in illegal activities at our events, they will not be permitted, period.”
There may be very little WTDY can do about it, according to David Lucey, a media lawyer at the law firm of Foley and Lardner in Milwaukee. Because Johnson’s campaign event occurred on private property, campaign staffers were within their right to exclude Brogan from the event.
“The political wisdom of such a decision is certainly open to debate,” Lucey said. “But their legal right to exclude whoever they want from a privately held campaign is not debatable.”