Thursday, March 29, 2012

For the Record: Josh Mandel, Akron Press Club, and the Campaign Fishbowl

Over the course of the year, the Akron Press Club has hosted events by both major party candidates for Ohio’s U.S. Senate election occurring in November 2012. On January 6, incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) spoke to the Press Club; on March 1, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, the soon-to-be Republican nominee, announced his candidacy at the Press Club. As a former VP for Programs and current member of the Akron Press Club board, I moderated both the Brown and Mandel events.

Following the Mandel event, media reports surfaced that the Mandel campaign attempted to prevent opposition trackers from recording Mandel’s speech to the Press Club. Since I was present at the event and since questions continue to be raised, I wanted to post, for the record, my thoughts about what transpired.

Mandel's staffers acted unprofessionally and were clearly trying to intimidate the folks that came to record the event. The Mandel campaign tried to prevent one individual from entering the room until I intervened, and also tried to obstruct the views of two of the cameras with their heads and by holding up pieces of paper until I told them to stop. I explained to Mandel’s staff that the Akron Press Club was an open forum and that the Press Club was also recording the event and would be putting that video online ASAP. And those individuals that came to record the event, by the way, despite what the Mandel campaign has said, did not try to disrupt anything—in fact they did not say a word while they were recording nor did they ask for help while they were being harassed. And I know this because during Mandel's speech, I was standing in the back of the room as all this occurred.

It is the policy of the Akron Press Club that anyone can record audio or video of our events. Period. Had Mandel-affiliated trackers been sent to record Sherrod Brown’s appearance on January 6 and been met with the same kind of treatment, I would have made sure that they were able to record freely and without interference. The Mandel Campaign knew going into the event that the Press Club is an open forum and that anyone who wished to record could do so (the only thing that would be prohibited would be having lunch—unless they paid for it). When Mandel’s campaign staff tried to block one of the trackers from entering the room, I reminded them of the policy. They then proceeded to continue to try to block the recording after I told them they couldn't. Huffington Post published a story about the incident and what you see near the end of the Huffington Post video is the second time I had to speak with them to tell them they couldn’t do that.

Running for office, especially a U.S. Senate seat, is a very serious thing. Congressional candidates and campaigns should not expect that their words uttered in an open forum are somehow private or not privy to public scrutiny. Ultimately, they are operating in a fishbowl. Attempting to prevent video and audio recording of a candidate speaking in a public forum is a losing proposition and does not reflect well on the campaign or the candidate—especially when a campaign is fully aware that such recording is permissible. It makes the campaign look amateurish and not fully confident in their own message or candidate.

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