RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force today urged that Washington State Representative Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) resign immediately from a panel formed to establish new legislative open records guidelines.
Shea gained intense local notoriety in Washington recently for his outspoken disdain of the news media at an August 18 pro-gun rights rally when he referred to journalists as “dirty, godless, hateful people.”
The 15-member Legislative Public Records Task Force on which Shea serves was formed after Washington Governor Jay Inslee, at the urging of RTDNA as well as other press freedom groups and media organizations, vetoed a bill passed in February that would have exempted the legislature from the state’s open records law.
Now, Inslee, too, is calling on Shea to be removed from the task force, although his protestations so far have fallen on deaf ears. House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox responded to Inslee’s plea by saying, “It’s not a great practice to have the governor start inserting himself in another government branch’s appointments.”
“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that Rep. Shea can be a fair arbiter on the matter of open records when he has expressed such extreme anti-news media sentiments,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director. “His remarks were not just impolitic; they were indicative of his deep-seeded contempt for responsible journalists’ constitutionally-guaranteed obligation to seek and report the truth.
“Even more significantly, any attempt to conceal government records that should be open harms, in this case, the citizens of the state of Washington, including Shea’s own constituents,” Shelley added.
At the August 18 rally where Shea spoke, he also accused journalists of “defending tyranny.”
The representative’s comments serve as further evidence that some local politicians and other public officials around the country are taking the lead of the current president, whose increasing vitriol against reporters and photojournalists is inflaming the passions of those who either don’t like, or don’t understand the role of, the news media.
Earlier this month, Shelley highlighted the case of a Democratic Florida state senator who has called the police on journalists simply because they have had the audacity to report truthfully and lawfully on her official business and public statements.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. Reach out to RTDNA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.