“NO QUESTIONS!”


By Craig Stellmacher

 

Maybe they made it the 1st Amendment for a Reason?

I have to tell you two things in this writing, the “no questions” restrictions and physical intimidation at the Rep John Kline Forum Friday 2/19/10, and what I think journalism means to me. 

I was at John Kline’s Forum in Faribault MN, to video it for TheUptake.org.  We at TheUptake do all kinds of politics in Minnesota, it’s our principle interest.  This is a peak year, elected officials, and budgets are changing.  It seemed to us, Rep. John Kline’s Forum was worth covering.  In fact, we’d streamed LIVE his last forum back on 9/18/09.  I was asked Thursday, to cover it the next day and called Kline’s office, and was directed to his Media Director Troy Young.  Troy, in no uncertain terms said :  “We will never permit LIVE streaming.” 

“But wait Troy–you did back in September.”

“You can’t, and I will repeatedly come and check on you to make sure that you don’t.”

So I left the streaming kit at home–I didn’t want him to take it away from me–I didn’t even want to possess it.

Surprise then, when I walk in and he says…

“You can stream live.”

What had happened in the mean time?  I’d called my Editor Mike Mcintee and told him the situation, and Mike called him and put him on the air and asked him to explain this restriction.  I didn’t find this change of heart out before I arrived though.

We at TheUptake, have come to expect this from Troy Young and John Kline.  An earlier encounter for Mike Mcintee went like this with Troy :

“No tripods”.

“What?!  We’re so far away, we can’t video with the hand-held shake, the TV stations use them?”  Troy never relented.  He insisted it was a rule for all of the media.  So Mike just went and stood with the rest of the TV crews who were using tripods, set up his tripod and waited for him to tell all of them they couldn’t use them.  He never came over.  The other media said they had not been told tripods were forbidden.

Last time I encountered Troy in September at his Health Care Forum, I approached the stage to get a still photograph, and at 150 ft., Troy forbade that. 

“Troy, you are not serving your client by doing this”–I told him in September.

Now what happens then on Friday?

It’s not like September’s huge crowd about Heath Care Reform, I would guess there’s just over 50 people.  And with this, Kline shifts : “I’ll take off my mic, and let’s all just condense a bit and we’ll talk”.  I think great, this will be intimate, and it really works for Kline and the people who showed up too.  I’ve seen him a couple times now in person.  He not only represents the conservative viewpoint, but I would add he’s commanding, popular, articulate, polite, and smart, so really I think these public forums work for him.  At the Health Care Reform Forum in September, I saw him fill the place and get repeated standing ovations.

I shift also, to this new intimate group, and I video just behind them by one row.  Troy shifts too, to be right beside me.  In fact, more than once, Troy will look in to see what I’m seeing on my liquid crystal display viewfinder.  “Nice Camera”  “Yes, and I’ll send you a link to this.”  We are always happy for anyone to use our videos at TheUptake.  I know news websites, politicians, and get this many “Republicans!”, have embeded my videos in their sites.  The forum starts up with him going straight to questions.  Unlike the earlier September forum that was largely behind him, we’re all a bit surprised to see a number of peace and health care activists have come to this meeting, and at times they dominate.  Now, this may make Troy Young and John Kline a bit uncomfortable.  Peace activist, retired FBI Whistleblower Coleen Rowley is in the audience, and she has even run against him for his congressional seat.

As the meeting comes off, I don’t see where exactly John Kline was ever really loosing.  He answered the questions mostly, he called on them more than once, he was patient and polite.  He even addressed and was polite to Coleen Rowley by name, and and so I think he took on the ultimate challenge and came out pretty well.  If you were a partisan liberal watching this, maybe you would take something from it.  However, if you were a partisan conservative, you’d would have been more than happy that he fielded the questions from them politely, and stood his ground at the same time.  I think the net here, is that he wins.  He actually looks, well pretty charismatic, intelligent, articulate and I’d advise him more exposure not less.

My approach to this meeting was to video it, but I fully intended to ask questions too.  I mic’ed myself up, but kept it switched off till a number of his constituents spoke first, I wanted very much to hear what they had to say. 

Since all the audience is asking questions this way, I raise my hand…

Troy shifts to me and says : “NO QUESTIONS!”

Wow.

“Troy, I’m not going to ask partisan questions.”

“I don’t care, this is for his constituents, NO QUESTIONS.”  Later, Troy in a heated discussion will say :  “You were going to make a liberal point weren’t you?!”

No, I wasn’t. 

I don’t want to appear partisan.  In house–at TheUptake–I argue that we will gain credibility if we cover the news from the center.  I have interviewed 100′s of people in the last few months, the vast majority had no idea what political side I was on.  I interviewed many conservatives, even politicians.  I think most assumed I was on their side in fact.  I think they assume it because, they often tell me this  : “no one is really covering this story, thanks for coming out and talking to us.”  That’s what Pro-Life folks, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, and homeless people have all said to me.

I’ve also interviewed at least 3 dozen different politicians, and many of their media people are in contact with me.  Many, contact me and tell me “blank” will be somewhere and would I like to come?  

ONLY Rep John Kline’s Media person Troy Young has treated me this way.

With the “NO QUESTIONS” instructions…

I let it go, and stayed quiet and kept videoing the meeting.

But I did surprise Troy Young right at the end, I immediately leaned over
turned the camera on him, and asked : “Why no questions?”.  It starts off camera and you can hear it, but then I turn the camera directly on him and he addresses it.  

The video, runs about a minute.  I wish I had video of the next 5.  Troy says : “TURN OFF THE CAMERA AND COME HERE AND FOLLOW ME!”  And we leave the auditorium and walk to edge of the foyer in front of it.  While we’ve come here, I think hardly a person attending will not hear what happens next. 

Troy lays in to me.  He stands approximately 12 inches from my face with my back to the wall with his voice raised. 

“YOU’RE NOT REAL MEDIA!”

“I don’t think this really works for your client.”–I say, and we exchange many words in a short period of time.

“NO MEDIA QUESTIONS FROM ANYONE.”

“So, you wouldn’t have let WCCO ask questions either?”

“NO MEDIA–NOT EVEN WCCO!”

“We, represent his constituents–all of them.”

“YOU WERE JUST GOING TO MAKE LIBERAL POINTS.”

I recite several of my possible questions to him.

I defend the 1st Amendment.

Whatever Troy Young said to me doesn’t matter, as much as how he said it 12 inches from my face while yelling at me with my back to the wall.  He never touched me or threatened to hit me, but to me it was clearly physical intimidation.  This never really works for me…

“If you’re fair and non-partisan–you won’t use that video!”

I tried to break off from him, I tried to get to my equipment and leave, and he tried to get in front of me a couple more times.  Once broken away from him, I quickly gathered my equipment up, camera, tripod and computer and was outside the building in 60 seconds.  I had planned on interviewing audience members, instead of running out the door.

Outside, there was Coleen Rawley. 

“We heard you.  We recently met with Kline in Washington, we saw Troy do the exact same thing to the Star Tribune reporter with us–Eric Roper.”

This last year, I’ve talked to so many people : Democrats, Conservatives, Tea People, Libertarians, and activists.  Many think they are the last defenders of the constitution.

I hear all the time why the 2nd Amendment, or the 4th is the greatest of them all!

I’ve decided for me it’s the 1st, and I think I know the reason they thought of it first.  This country needs a free press that can ask questions freely of its leaders. 

There does seem to be a Troy Young bubble around Rep John Kline, and I don’t know why it’s there.

For me, I went in very open minded and curious, but for me the question became, why “NO QUESTIONS”???

The night I was there, my clients were EVERYONE.  Everyone that couldn’t be there, everyone that wanted to be, everyone that wanted to see it live on the web but couldn’t.  My clients, include John Kline, because I wanted him to express himself however he wanted.

One other thing Troy said to me outside the auditorium :

“If you want to interview John Kline–submit your questions in advance!”

Now I’ve thought about that last line from Troy for a day, and decided this :  I will never submit questions in advance to get an interview.  That looks like–you have to submit the right questions–to get the interview.  Maybe I’ll say a topic, but submitting questions to get the interview does not look like a free press, and I just think I’ll say I wasn’t able to get an interview for this reason.  Submitting questions to Troy Young–seems absurd.

One other thing, you might be wondering, am I just a paid operative for the democrats or something?

And the answer is, I’m not paid, I’ve been doing this for FREE.  Or I should say, it’s not free–IT’S COSTING ME.  I do shoot freelance still and video photography, but in all my news videos to date, I was the only one at all that paid for them.  I’m not rich either, I hope to get paid some day, either by TheUptake or some news organization.

I didn’t want this to happen.  I was not there to embarrass John Kline or capture a macaca moment.

I just wanted to ask two questions…

But for me now the question is, why “NO QUESTIONS”?

I think Rep John Kline has an inside linebacker for a media liaison, and he knows it.  I think, he can even overhear it.  I think John Kline should reconsider his treatment of the press.  He and his constituents, would benefit from a more open relationship.

And I think all the amendments matter, and there’s a reason they put the 1st Amendment first.  It’s the one that preserves all the other ones.

Craig Martin Stellmacher

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