Ejection of NM reporter from rally sparks controversy over press access

Shaun Griswold, a senior reporter for Source New Mexico, a nonprofit news organization, was banned from attending a political rally on Sunday but interviewed voters outside the venue. (Courtesy of Source New Mexico)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE — Shaun Griswold — a veteran journalist who has worked in Colorado and New Mexico for a decade — drove hours to Carlsbad this week to cover Republican Mark Ronchetti’s political rally, one of the biggest campaign events of the year.

He has not seen a minute of the speeches.

The campaign denied him press credentials. It also barred him from entry as a member of the public after obtaining a ticket the same as anyone else.

The reason: Ronchetti’s campaign argues that the publication Griswold now works for — Source New Mexico, part of a nonprofit media network — is a left-leaning advocacy group, not a legitimate media organization, citing, in part, its funding sources. The campaign also took issue with a story the organization published earlier this summer.

Griswold’s ouster injected into the gubernatorial campaign a new debate about access to the press and who should be eligible for press titles.

The nonpartisan New Mexico Foundation for Open Government weighed in, calling it a “dangerous precedent to let any official decide who is and is not a ‘legitimate’ journalist.”

Melanie Majors, the foundation’s acting executive director, said the group was reluctant to get into a political fight. But she said the foundation could not remain silent about the refusal to allow a particular journalist or organization to attend a rally.

“Journalists are the eyes and ears of the public,” she said in a letter this week. “While they can be silenced by being denied access to events of public interest, members of the public are the ultimate victims.”

Griswold, for his part, came away with a story. He stood outside the Carlsbad Civic Center and spoke to rally attendees leaving the event.

Financial aid

The dispute centers on Ronchetti’s rally in Carlsbad on Sunday with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate. It drew around 1,000 attendees – making it one of the biggest events of its kind this year — as DeSantis criticized “woke” institutions and ideology, encouraging voters to back Ronchetti’s gubernatorial campaign.

Ronchetti, a Republican and former TV weatherman, is running against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat seeking a second term, and Libertarian Karen Bedonie in the Nov. 8 election.

A writer for the Albuquerque Journal was among television and newspaper reporters awarded credentials to cover Sunday’s rally, which featured about an hour of speeches.

Enrique Knell, spokesman for the Ronchetti campaign, said Source New Mexico was denied accreditation because it was not a legitimate media outlet. He cited the financial support his parent network received from AFSCME, a labor group, and other sources he called “left wing”.

“Our campaign credentials and admit all legitimate media and journalists,” Knell said in a written statement. “Source NM is a liberal advocacy group – not a legitimate news organization. There have been numerous reports by other media about liberal groups funding Source NM, exposing their liberal agenda.

Source New Mexico is part of a network of 29 publications linked to States Newsroom, a nonprofit group that discloses donations over $500.

The editorial staff indicates on its website that donations “support our journalistic mission but do not influence our editorial direction. We maintain a strict separation between our funding and our journalism.

He also added that the group “does not accept corporate donations or subscriptions, nor do we accept donations from foreign governments or anonymous sources.”

Among the approximately 110 donors listed on its website are AFSCME, a trade union group for government employees; the Google News Initiative Journalism Emergency Relief Fund; the Environmental Council of Piedmont and the Coalition for Smarter Growth; and a host of individuals, charitable funds and other organizations.

States Newsroom also said it received 25,000 contributions of $500 or less.

A 2019 article published on Governor.com reported that the States Newsroom network was started as a project sponsored by the Hopewell Fund, which it described as a left-leaning nonprofit group focused on “social change” projects. “. Chris Fitzsimon, the publisher and director of States Newsroom who once founded a left-leaning think tank in North Carolina, said Hopewell provided final support but no funding, according to the government story.

The debate over media access has erupted periodically in New Mexico politics. The Santa Fe Reporter, a weekly newspaper, received a $360,000 settlement from the state of New Mexico after charging the then-governor. Susana Martinez for violating the Public Records Inspection Act.

The deal came after the newspaper won a court ruling in 2017 that found the Martinez administration violated the Archives Act. The Santa Fe Reporter, however, did not prevail on a separate complaint, alleging that the administration violated the “free press” clause of the state Constitution by unlawfully denying access to information provided to other media outlets.

Lujan Grisham has also faced media access issues. The evening balls of his inauguration in 2019, for example, were closed to the press.

Full editorial control

Source editor Marisa Demarco — a longtime reporter who has worked for KUNM, the Albuquerque Tribune and the Weekly Alibi — said she has full editorial control over the publication, which operates a website and shares his work with newspapers and other media.

“Nobody ever told me what to post or what framework the articles should take or anything like that,” Demarco said in an interview. “We are a completely independent store.”

The organization, she noted, won awards this year, including first place from the Regional Society of Professional Political News Reporters, for an article on errors in state budget legislation.

The publication’s reporters, Demarco said, adhere to the SPJ’s code of ethics, which calls for fair and accurate reporting.

Demarco said Griswold signed up to attend Ronchetti’s rally as a member of the public as she also sought press accreditation for the organization to cover it.

The day before the rally, Demarco said, Knell said he was refusing accreditation based on their “past interactions.” The only previous complaint, Demarco said, concerned a story centered on Ronchetti’s appearance on a radio show, where the host asked him about his stance on the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers and d ‘others.

Either way, Griswold had a public ticket to Sunday’s rally and came down to cover it. The private security at the gate had a picture of him and refused him entry.

Griswold — a member of the Native American Journalists Association and this year’s winner of NAJA and SPJ awards — held a sign identifying himself as a journalist and interviewed people as they left the rally.

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