Gov. Dave Heineman's office barred Daily Nebraskan reporters from attending his press conferences, only to reverse it within hours.
The edict was relayed to the Daily Nebraskan Thursday afternoon.
"We are kind of at a point where we feel we need to cut ties (with the Daily Nebraskan)," said Heineman's Deputy Communications Director Ashley Cradduck.
This reaction was a response to a story that ran in Thursday's edition of the Daily Nebraskan that mentioned Timothy Haverkamp, a man convicted of second-degree murder, who gives tours at the governor's mansion as part of a rehabilitation program.
Cradduck said her office felt it wasn't given an opportunity to comment on the story before it was published. Cradduck had previously called the story's reporter Wednesday evening and told the reporter she wasn't happy with the story running.
On Thursday, Cradduck continued: "I wouldn't say that the story was inaccurate, but I would say some things were taken out of context. It's not entirely inaccurate, but it's not the full picture, either."
She then said the Daily Nebraskan would no longer receive press releases from the governor's office and the newspaper's reporters would be banned from covering the governor's press conferences at the State Capitol.
If Daily Nebraskan reporters were at one of the governor's press conferences at the Capitol "I would ask the security to see if they could remove (the reporters)," Cradduck said.
When the Daily Nebraskan tried to get a written copy of the new policy, Heineman's Communications Director Jen Rae Hein refused to go on record with a comment.
She then hung up the phone.
Later in the afternoon, the governor's office clarified its position by saying Daily Nebraskan reporters would be allowed to cover any kind of press conference at the Capitol, but they
would still not receive e-mailed press releases.
"I hope every journalist and every editorial board in the state and every taxpayer realizes the freedom of speech violations here," said Ian Russell, a legislative aide to Nebraska Sen. Tom White of Omaha. "When the governor's office goes and beats up on a college newspaper because they're doing their job, it's unbelievable."
The response of the governor's office was a bad way to deal with the media, said Adam Goldstein, the attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center.
"It's indistinguishable from a 2-year-old's temper tantrum," Goldstein said. "Except the 2-year-old isn't breaking the law."
He said the governor's office should have acted more professional.
"That is certainly not the case with whomever came up with this," he said of Heineman's office shutting off the Daily Nebraskan's access. "They should probably consider a further degree (in college). Perhaps in the American form of government in some way."
Allen Beermann, director of the Nebraska Press Association, said he hadn't heard of a similar situation at another paper during his 14-year tenure.
"Obviously it's unfortunate for both the (Daily Nebraskan) and the governor's office," he said, adding that events like this are unusual in Nebraska.
Bob Steele, a media ethicist at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center, said that the governor's office should provide reasonable access and response to journalists.
State officials are not required to answer journalist's questions, he said, but they should not selectively ban a news organization based on displeasure with a particular story.
"In this case, it's very difficult to see any logical, ethical, substantive reason for the state officials to bar the Daily Nebraskan journalists from coverage," Steele said. "If the governor's office had problems they should address those concerns with the newspapers editors in a mature, reasonable, professional manner."
He said there have been examples over the years where governors or other state officials overreact with restrictions on a news organization because they're upset about a particular story. It's almost always found to be "unwise, unprofessional, and in many cases, illegal" to restrict a journalist's access to a public building in order to report legitimate stories, he said.
"The fact that they tried to persuade the coverage is a choice they can make," Steele said, "but to then follow up with a ban on the Daily Nebraskan in terms of communication with the governor's office, that's unwise, unprofessional and counter to the public interest."
© 2008 Daily Nebraskan via U-WIRE