Koch Brothers Hobble Journalists Covering Their Retreat
Credit: DonkeyHotey
August 4, 2015

What kind of reporter would go to an event like this and agree to these rules?

This weekend, Charles and David Koch’s Freedom Partners hosted five Republican presidential hopefuls and hundreds of top conservative donors at the St. Regis Monarch Beach luxury resort in California. The tax-exempt organization, which has been dubbed the Koch Brothers’ “secret bank,” allowed nine news organizations to cover parts of the conference.

The New York Times highlighted these invitations last week as evidence of the Kochs’ attempt to change their image as a “secretive” network with a “culture deeply allergic to the spotlight.” But in reality, those reporters who covered the event were subject to numerous restrictions — restrictions one media ethics expert called “outrageous.”

ThinkProgress obtained a copy of the conditions sent by Freedom Partners to reporters. These included demands that reporters “not report on anyone’s attendance at the event unless you are specifically granted an interview request or they are a part of the formal program,” that they “treat their attendance as off the record unless otherwise discussed and approved prior to an interview,” and that “interview requests should only be made through the Freedom Partners communications team.” It also noted that media attendees would have to “stay off-site,” and only be granted access “on-site during the general program hours.”

Only the reporters who agreed to the following provisions would be allowed to attend.

Among the requirements: Media credentials had to be prominently displayed, lest any donor be a little too candid with a reporter. They were permitted to cover the "program, general mood of the event" and interviews with program panelists, elected officials and leaders of groups present.

Video cameras and audio recorders were forbidden, except for the "Policy Leader Discussion" with Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Oh, and reporters had to agree not to mention who was there unless "specifically" granted an interview request or if they were part of a program.

Reporters agreed to treat everyone's attendance as off the record "unless otherwise discussed and approved prior to an interview."

Not that they weren't willing to help them at times: "We want to allow you to walk around freely at those sessions that will be open to the media. However, not all sessions will be open to media and we expect that you will respect this parameter by not attending or trying to attend closed press events. Our team will be happy to debrief you on closed press meetings and provide you with information that will help inform your stories."

Aww. Isn't that nice?

Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said in a email that she found the agreement “outrageous — on the part of the media organizations, that is. The organizers can ask for whatever they want and think they can get. I don’t like it, but it is up to the news organizations to draw the line and to refuse to attend under these circumstances.”

As “the restrictions could stop journalists from reporting what’s right before their eyes,” she added, they reflect “a profound contempt for the role of an independent press, and by extension, the public.”

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