New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie was in Burlington Wednesday night as the keynote at a Vermont Republican Party fundraiser. The event and access to Christie were closed to the media. The move sparked criticism from local television and newspapers and a commentary from a former Washington, D.C. reporter.
The Vermont Republican Party’s winter fundraiser featured an extremely high-profile speaker: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of the national party’s leading figures who is widely seen as a 2016 presidential contender. But the only people who were able to see him were those who made contributions between $50 and $10,000 to the state party. Media were not allowed to cover the visit.
That prompted a commentary in VTDigger-dot-org by Jon Margolis called “Why We Should Care About Access To Christie Speech.” Margolis, the online investigative newspaper’s political columnist, is a retired Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Tribune. “I can remember when even when the President of the United States was speaking at a political fundraiser for his party, not only were reporters allowed in, we were given the run of the place...until th President showed up, of course, then there was more security. You could wander around, you could chat with people. Which is a very important part of political journalism. For a while they even fed us, the same not very good food that the paying customers got.It seems to me we ought to be entitled to do our jobs.”
Margolis notes in his column that Vermont Democrats have been noticeably quiet about the media lockout, writing “...neither party is superior to the other” when it comes to invitation-only events. Margolis says the relationship between media and politics has changed. “To be fair to the politicians and their advisors, there has been an extraordinary growth of petty “gotcha” journalism. And I think one reason that some years ago we were all permitted and welcome was that the politicians were pretty confident that that’s not what we were up to. Now they can’t be confident. I think also there’s been a tremendous growth in the power of the political professionals. The consultants. They think this is the safest course. It’s not the course most consistent with democracy. But from the point of view of the politician and his or her consultant it may be safe.”
Bob Stannard is a retired lobbyist, activist and former Vermont state legislator. He believes Christie avoided the media to dodge potential questions about the New Jersey controversy over closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September. Stannard is concerned that the tactic is a trend that has become commonplace. “I think it works against them. Frankly Christie probably said some good stuff that people would have liked to have liked to have heard. But they didn’t want to run the risk of some sort of a faux-pas. And that’s truly too bad, because that’s what’s the job’s about. I was a state rep for six years. I never had any problem talking with the press about anything, anytime. It goes with the job. And when you exclude the public from events and you start to control the message to the media, then you become Iran or North Korea. These people are public officials. They are supposed to be held accountable at all times for all reasons.”
About 600 people attended the Republican fundraiser in Burlington.