Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL237.PRB - Transparency
A cloak of secrecy has descended upon Missouri government to a degree I never imagined in all my decades covering this statehouse for you.
It comes from the administration of Missouri's new governor, Eric Greitens.
I actually had hoped for something different. He ran a campaign promising change and challenging the old way of doing business in government.
Other governors I've covered who campaigned on platforms of change made transparency a major component in rallying Missourians to their issues -- Warren Hearnes, followed by Kit Bond on the Republican side and Mel Carnahan on the Democratic side.
But Greitens, at least so far, has taken a more secretive approach.
He has not held a open-question news conference in the statehouse since his election.
Some of his cabinet nominations and other announcements have been made through Facebook where there is no opportunity for reporters to ask questions.
On his first day in office, just minutes after his inauguration when he signed an executive order at a media event in the governor's office, he immediately walked out ignoring reporters who tried to ask questions about his executive order.
I wish someone on his staff would advise him how damaging that appearance of arrogance of power or fear of reporters can be.
An example of a missed opportunity arose the first time I met Greitens face-to-face in the statehouse sand tried to ask a simple question.
It was on the legislature's opening day in early January. Not yet sworn in as governor, Greitens came to the Senate and sat for an hour in a seat on the chamber's dais.
It was in stark contrast to the departing governor, Jay Nixon, whom both Democrats and Republicans criticized for his disengagement from the legislative process.
So, when Greitens left the chamber, I and another reporter quickly followed him to ask what prompted his unique Senate appearance.
Greitens refused to answer. Instead, he suggested that I schedule an interview sometime in the indefinite future and then promptly turned away from me.
What could have been a tremendously positive story about how Greitens demonstrated a more engaged approach with the legislature became a story about how he effectively fled from reporters.
I must confess, there are some difficult questions we statehouse reporters want to ask Greitens.
At the top of the list would be how much money he has accepted from lobbyist clients for his inaugural celebrations held on the same day he signed the executive order prohibiting other state workers from taking lobbyist gifts.
Yes, there would be other tough and awkward questions. But the real political leaders I've covered had the courage to face difficult questions, head on.
And, I sense, they understood a much deeper issue -- that transparency and accountability in government is at the heart of American democracy and our system of government.
It's a view that goes back to the foundation of our democracy.
An adversarial and sometimes partisan press, was what helped inspire the revolutionaries who founded our country.
When they won that war, they made "freedom of speech" and "of the press" the first amendment to our Constitution.
To be fair, Greitens is not alone in recent efforts to diminish the role of an independent press in Missouri.
The administration of his predecessor, Jay Nixon, effectively gagged many agency officials from talking with reporters.
The Senate has exiled reporters off the Senate floor in order to protect the privacy of conversations with staff in the supposedly public Senate chamber.
Internet, Twitter, Facebook and dozens upon dozens of taxpayer-funded government information officers all have made it easier for government officials to deliver crafted, one-sided messages directly to the public without having to deal with reporters.
But taking that approach disrespects the vision of our nation's founders about the role of an independent press -- and the transparency they envisioned in our government.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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