Every four years, the summer political conventions serve as party pep rallies and media spectacles, with upwards of 15,000 journalists swarming the speeches and delegates. News organizations already planned on cutting back dramatically for this month’s scaled-down Democratic and Republican conventions because of the coronavirus—and they may not have access to the latter at all. CNN reported that there will be no press on the ground when President Donald Trump accepts the formal nomination at the Republican convention, which, for the first time in the nation’s political history, will bar journalists from covering the event. Only through portions of a livestream will the American public witness the vote, CNN noted, a decision that the RNC is blaming on coronavirus-imposed restrictions that have forced the event to significantly limit attendance.
“Given the health restrictions and limitations in place within the state of North Carolina, we are planning for the Charlotte activities to be closed press Friday, August 21 — Monday, August 24,” a Republican official and convention spokesperson said in a statement, first reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Saturday. “We are happy to let you know if this changes, but we are working within the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events.”
Coronavirus-related health concerns have repeatedly derailed Trump’s plans for a full-scale convention. He briefly relocated a portion of the event to Jacksonville, Florida, after North Carolina governor Roy Cooper could not promise to host the event as it would have operated pre-pandemic. But spiking cases in Florida forced the president to backtrack again, paring down attendance in Jacksonville and then canceling that part of convention activities. Now, a downsized number of delegates—336, one for every six representatives—are scheduled to vote at the formal proceedings in Charlotte. According to the Gazette, reporters will also be barred from the room when the Republican National Committee meets to conduct official party business.
Republican officials are placing the onus on Cooper, claiming the Democratic governor’s social distancing and capacity restrictions forced their decision—which also, conveniently, targets the news media, long demonized by Trump as the enemy. “The president is both angry at coronavirus-related closures and using the cover they provide to bar press,” the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman said on Twitter. Associated Press reporter and White House Correspondents’ Association president Zeke Miller, calling it “an ill-advised decision,” urged GOP officials to reconsider. “The nomination of a major party presidential candidate is very much the business of the American people,” he wrote. “An RNC official now says that the decision is not final and that they are still working through press coverage options,” Miller noted, adding: “Hopefully they’ll give the American people the access they deserve.” (The RNC told CNN on Sunday that “no final decision has been made” on press access.)
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer denounced the decision as “simply unacceptable” and predicted that “whoever made this ridiculous idea is going to have to back out of it very soon. This is the United States of America, where we have a free press.” Richard Stengel, a former top editor of Time magazine and ex-Obama State Department official, said the “GOP has gone from the party of limited government to the party of limited free press. From libertarianism to authoritarianism.”
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