What kind of reporter would go to an event like this and agree to these rules?
This weekend, Charles and David Koch’s Freedom Partners hosted five Republican presidential hopefuls and hundreds of top conservative donors at the St. Regis Monarch Beach luxury resort in California. The tax-exempt organization, which has been dubbed the Koch Brothers’ “secret bank,” allowed nine news organizations to cover parts of the conference.
The New York Times highlighted these invitations last week as evidence of the Kochs’ attempt to change their image as a “secretive” network with a “culture deeply allergic to the spotlight.” But in reality, those reporters who covered the event were subject to numerous restrictions — restrictions one media ethics expert called “outrageous.”
ThinkProgress obtained a copy of the conditions sent by Freedom Partners to reporters. These included demands that reporters “not report on anyone’s attendance at the event unless you are specifically granted an interview request or they are a part of the formal program,” that they “treat their attendance as off the record unless otherwise discussed and approved prior to an interview,” and that “interview requests should only be made through the Freedom Partners communications team.” It also noted that media attendees would have to “stay off-site,” and only be granted access “on-site during the general program hours.”
Only the reporters who agreed to the following provisions would be allowed to attend:
We would like to invite you to cover this private event; however, we ask that you agree to the ground rules below.
1) Media credentials will be given to those covering the event on-site. These credentials must be prominently displayed at all times. Credentials are non-transferable.
2) You have been invited to cover the program, general mood of the event and interviews with program participants, elected officials, and leaders from each group represented at the seminar.
3) The program is strictly pen and pad, with the exception of the one-on-one Policy Leader Discussions with Govs. Bush and Walker and Sens. Cruz and Rubio. Freedom Partners will also livestream the Policy Leader Discussions. We will work with you individually to meet any requests outside of these guidelines.
4) Given the privacy rights of our members and other guests, you may not report on anyone’s attendance at the event unless you are specifically granted an interview request or they are a part of the formal program. You are to treat their attendance as off the record unless otherwise discussed and approved prior to an interview.
5) Out of respect for all event attendees, interview requests should only be made through the Freedom Partners communications team. We are more than happy to help facilitate these requests and help you secure interview opportunities.
6) Media will stay off-site and be granted access on-site during the general program hours.
7) We trust that you will abide by these ground rules and, therefore, we want to allow you to walk around freely at those sessions that will be open to the media. However, not all sessions will be open to media and we expect that you will respect this parameter by not attending or trying to attend closed press events. Our team will be happy to debrief you on closed press meetings and provide you with information that will help inform your stories.
Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said in a email that she found the agreement “outrageous — on the part of the media organizations, that is. The organizers can ask for whatever they want and think they can get. I don’t like it, but it is up to the news organizations to draw the line and to refuse to attend under these circumstances.”
As “the restrictions could stop journalists from reporting what’s right before their eyes,” she added, they reflect “a profound contempt for the role of an independent press, and by extension, the public.”