McConnell Campaign Slammed For Using Cops To Control The Press
March 20, 2014 by Ben Bullard
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was excoriated by the paper of record in his old Kentucky home Wednesday after his re-election campaign used the cops to obstruct a member of the media from covering a campaign press conference earlier in the week.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, staffers banned reporter Joe Sonka of the Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO) , a local alt-weekly newspaper often critical of the Senator, from a McConnell campaign press conference Monday at a Louisville hotel.
Campaign staffers called the Louisville Metro Police on Sonka, after McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton told the press that Sonka had been banned from the event because at least one other reporter in attendance didn’t want him there.
In an editorial Wednesday, The Courier-Journal said that’s nonsense, and came to Sonka’s defense as fellow member of the press.
When Joe Sonka, LEO news editor, attempted to enter the room at Louisville’s Hilton Garden Inn with other reporters gathered for a news conference, an LMPD officer blocked his access, according to Courier-Journal political writer Joseph Gerth.
No one with the campaign offered any plausible answers why.
The most implausible came from Mr. McConnell. Asked at the press conference by reporters who managed to get in why Mr. Sonka was excluded, Mr. McConnell said he didn’t know, giving some credibility to critics who accuse him of being out of touch.
Jesse Benton, Mr. McConnell’s campaign manager, initially claimed Mr. Sonka was barred because other reporters objected to his presence.
But he refused to identify them and the notion of reporters having veto power over other reporters is absurd.
Mr. Benton changed his story for Politico, saying that Mr. Sonka simply wasn’t wanted at a “private event” where “select members of the media were invited to attend for an intimate question and answer session.”
For a rundown of Sonka’s previous encounters with the McConnell camp, check out Sonka’s own account of their rocky past. It’s clear from Sonka’s description that McConnell doesn’t like to be asked about Federal pork.
According to Sonka, Benton told him at one point he would indeed be allowed into the room where the conference was scheduled — on the unacceptable condition that he not ask any questions. When Sonka took a seat in the lobby outside the event, with the door to the press conference fully closed, he said an unidentified person evidently attached to the McConnell camp walked up to a nearby officer and whispered in the officer’s ear.
Then, “the officer told me that I couldn’t even sit alone in the empty lobby — with the door to the conference room closed — or else I would be arrested. I laughed and went 20 yards down the hall to another seat that they said was acceptable.”
With continued PR missteps like this one, or the gun stunt at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or the one in which McConnell threatened to punch conservatives “in the nose,” one wonders just how steep a hill Matt Bevin, McConnell’s challenger from the right, must climb to defeat him in Kentucky’s GOP primary this November.
“Perhaps McConnell’s terrible poll numbers are getting to the campaign?” wrote Sonka. “Despite spending millions of dollars on ads — along with pro-McConnell Super PACs spending millions as well — McConnell’s approvals have only gotten worse, with the Bluegrass Poll showing him with a 32 percent approval rating, 27 percent favorable rating and a 4 percent deficit to Alison Lundergan Grimes.”
The takeaway: If your bid to become the next Senate Majority Leader is in the tank, you can always shore up your image by handpicking the media reps who’ll be “covering” your campaign. And, if some muckraker shows up wanting to ask substantive questions — well, you can always call the cops.