After nearly four years of including one of Ohio’s leading independent reporters on its media distribution list, why did Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s media team suddenly remove me earlier this year from that list? Kasich communicators included me on their media distribution list from the early days of his 2010 campaign. Then this past June they scrubbed me from it.
As Columbus Government Examiner, I wrote about 1,600 stories on people, politics and government from September of 2009 until just a few months ago, when I transitioned from Examiner.com, headquartered in Denver, to Allvoices, headquartered in San Francisco. To undergird my claim of independent reporter status, I offer my entire portfolio of work at Examiner for review.
I routinely showed up and stood alongside the rest of Ohio’s statehouse press corps, many of whom I considered professional colleagues from the three years [2003-2006] I was a credentialed member of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association (OLCA). My picture hangs in the statehouse press room along with reporters for the Big Eight newspapers and other statehouse media members. From bill signings to policy and program announcements, Team Kasich knew me and I knew them. It was to their credit that they initially included me on their list, where previous governors had only been accommodating to the The Fourth Estate, which has historically represented legacy print papers, and is now challenged by the Fifth Estate, made up of new media online journalists like me.
Trouble really started brewing immediately after I posted a comment on Pinterest about the Kasich Administration preparing for politically-motivated income tax cuts by pilfering funds from important programs. “Funny. Ohio’s governor said the state shouldn’t take the Medicaid expansion deal because the feds couldn’t be trusted to pay their promised share into the future. Making seniors pay more property tax because the state decided to stop paying its share to fund tax cuts for people who don’t need them is called transitioning to job creation. Really?”
Kasich Spokesman Rob Nichols, who joined the cult of Kasich following his long relationship of many years with Deborah Pryce, a former central Ohio congressman who rose to a leadership position in the House under former speaker Denny Hastert of Illinois, wrote back via his private Yahoo account, telling me I was basically doomed: “If you were drunk and popped off, I can respect that, and you can apologize to me to fix this. But if you want to stand by this, you will never talk to the governor again. Rob Nichols, Press Secretary, Office of Governor John Kasich.” Not stopping there, Nichols bore in more, saying, “Retract this or I will never talk to you again.”
I love a good exchange, so I stood my ground and made a tough choice to not be intimidated. I responded with this:
In light of your threat to ban me from ever talking to John [and I guess you and everybody else down there], based on a comment I made that you haven’t corrected me on and that others I have since spoken with, who read the Pin and moved on without resorting to the kind of retaliatory reaction you did, my response to your threat is to say this: Do what you’re going to do. It makes no difference to me. I have other resources.
It makes no difference to me if you shut the door on me or not. It only reflects poorly on you and John. What it will show is how terribly paranoid and thin-skinned the governor’s office is. And you think he’s presidential timbre? Really?
Are you going to issue the same kind of threat to national media who will inevitably arrive at the same conclusion and who won’t be afraid to write about it? If a little reporter like me, who knows John better than any of you or any reporter you sanction can imagine, can spook you, you’re in for a very bumpy and ultimately unsuccessful ride to higher office.
What you need to know about me is I get a little fired up when confronted by bullies and egotists and anyone else who’s afraid of their shadow and tries to intimidate me by telling me I can’t do something. I’m too old for your threat to be of any real concern to me but still young enough to stand my ground.
For the record: Unless you care to explain to me why the Pin is wrong, in which case I would retract it since I’m not a purveyor of falsehoods like others I know, I will not retract it.
It’s your call, not mine. You decide who you dare let ask John a question he may not like [and there will lots more of those questions coming]. Do what you’re going to do. I thought you guys were above being petty, but I guess I was wrong. Your attitude and that of your boss speaks volumes, to be sure.
“But whatever you do, it will be remembered and won’t go unnoticed. By the way, good luck with that run for the White House. Have a great day. JMS
A fellow independent reporter, Jason Hart, who writes at Media Trackers, offered this comment on Nichols’ fiery lightning bolt. “Thank you for passing this along. This is definitely a telling message from the governor’s office, and especially interesting if it came from a taxpayer-funded email account!” Media Trackers is dedicated to media accountability, government transparency, and quality fact-based journalism, website information says. “Our site examines stories published in the mainstream media, explores claims made by some of the more partisan political groups, and provides the facts on the issues, people and elections that matter.”
Having known John Kasich since the early days of 1977 when he and I were staffers for state senators, decades before the young, mop-topped Ronald Reagan acolyte turned into the John Kasich of today, I’ve seen him win his way from one election to another and covered his run for Ohio governor. Kasich knows who I am, and that’s where the trouble starts. Unlike today’s crop of statehouse news followers, who seem unable to take on Kasich for fear he’ll bark at them if he even considers barking at them at all, Kasich knows I can ask him the kinds of questions that make his head exploded. Doing that is not what Team Kasich wants, especially in an election year of this magnitude where a win frees him from ever being accountable to Ohio voters again, and sets him up for his long expected second try at the White House.
So they dumped me. Fair enough, since they’re in charge.
BTW, just to show I’m a good sport about all this, even though it’s serious matter, I gave Rob Nichols a bag of Quinoa, and apologized for not having a coupon towards a dung fire to cook it over. He said he’d already received gifts before. Master of the rhetorical head-fake, he secretly appreciated the humor, then told me he was going to sic the Ethics Commission on me. I said, Okay, I need the publicity. No knocks in the night so far.
By banning me from their events, something no other candidate including Mitt Romney or party including Republican has done so far, shows just how fearful they are of any member of the media getting in the governor’s way to higher office. Kasich may win next Tuesday with the help of Ohio media, especially the Buckeye State’s legacy print newspaper industry, who turned on Ed FitzGerald with a vicious fury. FitzGerald, for sure, has his own crosses to bear, but so does John R. Kasich. The difference being, FitzGerald got hung on his cross. Kasich used his cross to clear his path to further his fame and fortune.
In 1977 I went to work in the Ohio Senate for Democratic State Senator Michael Schwarzwalder, who died last year. I first met John Kasich then, when he was working for Buzz Lukens, a Republican state senator. Last year at a memorial organized by Schwarzwalder’s grown daughters, John Kasich, whose office contacted me about the memorial, lamented his death by eulogizing his political model, Jack Kemp. Schwarzwalder, who the young, ambitious Kasich admired, had nothing to hide and was fearless. Gov. Kasich, after a lifetime of bobbing and weaving his way from one election to another, obviously have much to hide and is fearful.
Kasich reminisced to those present who knew, loved and worked with Schwarzwalder, how good the good old days were back then. He apparently recalled lots of laughs and good times with an office that in about every way possible was on the opposite side of nearly every issue. For those of us who were there, working in the office during Kasich’s early days in the Senate, those good times are hard to recall. Maybe that explains why a few people who came to show their respect for the late great senator walked out on Kasich. Then, a few days later at the Westerville Grill, where Kasich was putting on another performance directed at his income tax cut, he summoned me over to tell me he wouldn’t forget that some people very close to Michael confronted him with comments that were not very flattering.
Hey, John, I’m ready to be lifted up.