On Tuesday, I reported that Congresswoman Terri Sewell, a Democrat representing Alabama’s 7th District, will not hold in-person meetings at her DC office with unvaccinated individuals.
“PLEASE NOTE: Proof of COVID-19 vaccinations are required for every in-person or in-office meeting with the Congresswoman or with Staff,” read the signature on an email I got ahold of from one of her staffers.
You can read that story here.
Of course, I gave her office the chance to comment on the piece before it went to publication. I emailed her press secretary my questions with a two-hour deadline, and the piece was not posted until three hours later. The story was picked up by Fox News shortly thereafter.
I did not hear from the congresswoman’s office until around 9 p.m. on Tuesday night, when I received a phone call from two members of her staff. This call was not agreed to be off the record — and given what was said, I feel I have no obligation to keep its contents private.
The staffers insisted that my article was inaccurate because it did not mention that Representative Sewell likely meets with unvaccinated constituents unofficially at events in her district. Of course, I would have been happy to include this, had they replied to my email prior to the article’s publication. However, this suggestion does not change the accuracy of my reporting, which states quite clearly, “only vaccinated persons may meet in-person with Representative Sewell or her staff”, quotes the policy directly, and correctly notes that she is “limiting access to her office.”
It was after I agreed to add “context” to the story on their behalf that Congresswoman Sewell’s chief of staff asserted that my article was putting the lives of their staff at risk!
I asked her to clarify what she meant. She told me that after my article was published, the office received angry and threatening phone calls. There is a “direct line,” she said, between reporting that they deem inaccurate (read: reporting that is critical) and an increase in threats to their staff.
Sewell’s office provided the following statement in reference to last night’s phone call:
We also relayed to the reporter that we had already begun to receive negative calls related to what we felt was inaccurate reporting and expressed concerns that they might escalate, as they often do. We know full well that journalists, Members of Congress, and congressional staff alike are on the front lines in dealing with political threats during this period of heightened tensions, and we will continue to do what we can to lower the temperature.
The purpose of these comments from Sewell’s staff seemed obvious to me. They are trying to manipulate and intimidate journalists into dampening potentially negative coverage, or else we will be considered responsible for how the public may respond to such reporting.
Any suggestion that a journalist avoid criticizing powerful politicians because those politicians could receive backlash is antithetical to the idea of a free press — and it must be called out publicly. At The Spectator, we will continue to provide expository coverage of all politicians, regardless of their political leanings or any inappropriate accusations that we are responsible for anyone else’s behavior.
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