Private parties

Suppose you rent out a hall to hold a party. You’re entitled to bar admission to anyone you haven’t invited. After all, it’s on your dime, right? Whether we in the media like it or not, politicians’ campaigns and political parties are well within their rights to do the same.

On Wednesday of this week, I headed over to the Monona Terrace, where Senator Ron Johnson was speaking on behalf of the Mitt Romney campaign. The event was not heavily covered: there was a TV crew, a second TV videographer unaccompanied by a reporter, myself, and Dylan Brogan of WTDY.

As you may have heard by now, Brogan was barred from covering the event by Ben Sparks, Wisconsin Communications Director for the Romney campaign.

Sparks was displeased with an earlier protest staged in Janesville by WTDY talk host John “Sly” Sylvester, and with Brogan’s subsequent on-air analysis of the imbroglio.

AUDIO: Sparks, Brogan (:60)

I wasn’t in Janesville that day, but I was at a GOP campaign event in Madison on Tuesday, where Sly also protested.

Sparks’ decision to exclude Brogan from the Johnson event has been compared to a similar decision by Graeme Zielinski, the spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin who barred a blogger with conservative website Wisconsin Reporter from entering DPW’s convention in Appleton back in June.

I’m by no means comparing Wisconsin Reporter, a clearly partisan operation, with Brogan or the news staff at WTDY. But the fact is that neither Monona Terrace nor Appleton’s Paper Valley Convention Center are public spaces in the same way as the grounds of a state Capitol. (Check out what happened at a Romney event in Des Moines last month.) Like it or not, organizations paying for the use of space can prohibit anyone, whether they’ve got press credentials or not. That doesn’t make it right, but if you don’t like it, well tough.

And lastly, I’m just going to observe that the actions by Zielinski and Sparks were a bit predictable, a bit theatrical, and carry almost no down side. Here’s the deal: neither ‘Sly’ Sylvester nor Wisconsin Reporter could’ve hoped for a better outcome. Brogan’s ouster set the table for Sly’s show the following day, and Zielinski’s decision might have rekindled – however momentarily – flagging interest in Wisconsin Reporter’s product.

And in the kabuki theatre which passes for much political reporting, party operatives giving the boot to political media (remember, we’re widely disliked) will only get them a thumbs-up from their own partisans while infuriating their opponents, and in today’s political environment, you can’t ask for a better result.

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