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Ashcroft must allow press in conferences

Sept. 24, 2003

Staff editorial

Attorney General John Ashcroft is in the midst of what can only be called a public relations tour. Making speaking appearances in favor of the U.S. Patriot Act across the country, Ashcroft is denying the print media access to any of these engagements, the Society of Professional Journalists reported.

Ashcroft's speeches, made to law enforcement officials who support his views, defend the controversial act granting federal law officers additional powers. Admission to the speeches are 'conditioned on agreement with Ashcroft's position,' SPJ reports and post-speech interviews only are granted to local broadcast media.

Unscripted questions are forbidden, and print reporters have been escorted out of the engagements by police.

After SPJ leaders, who represent nearly 10,000 working journalists, sent a letter to Ashcroft urging him to make his speeches more accessible, he gave print reporters five minutes to ask questions in Louisville last week, the first time he's done so in his nationwide tour, SPJ reported.

The Lariat supports SPJ in its fight to make Ashcroft's speeches more accessible to print reporters. Limiting media to just broadcast reporters allows Ashcroft and his staff to put an unusual, spin doctor-like effect on the information he's presenting.

Most TV stations run seven to 10 second sound bites of speeches. Ashcroft undoubtedly has trained speechwriters who have coordinated short sentences promoting the Patriot Act for TV purposes. This short time frame does not allow the act to be explained fully to Americans, especially those who may not be educated on the rigidity the act enforces on the public's access to information.

In print, that information can be explained in full, and refuted by sources opposing Ashcroft and the Patriot Act. Forbidding print media and anyone in the public who disagrees with him allows Ashcroft to put a scary, one-sided spin on a law that affects all Americans greatly.

By limiting who receives information on the Patriot Act at his speeches, Ashcroft is limiting public understanding of the issues, controlling the debates and as SPJ pointed out, 'presenting a misleading portrayal of the event itself.' His limitations are showing Americans what the Patriot Act could eventually do, limit our freedom to information and infringe on our basic civil liberties. Ashcroft should make his speeches more accessible and stop stifling the media.