JEFFERSON CITY - Governor Jay Nixon barred reporters representing several Missouri news organizations from a session with selected reporters on higher education Wednesday afternoon.
Nixon personally chose whom he would allow to attend the session, according to the governor's communications director, Christine Bertelson. The governor "wanted to keep the group small," she said.
The governor's actions were critized by Journalism Professor Charles Davis at the University of Missouri.
"When public official start hand-picking the people who are going to be able to ask you questions, then eventually those selections are going to be made in an ideological way," Davis said.
Davis said there might have been a different outcome if reporters had stuck together and refused to attend unless everyone was allowed in.
MissouriNet News Director Bob Priddy was among those not invited to the discussion. Priddy said he was "troubled" by the governor's actions, but did not know enough about the circumstances to draw judgment.
"It's not the first time though that we've had some body in the governor's office who has manipulated the media or has played favorites, and so that's not exactly unusual," Priddy said.
According to Priddy, MissouriNet had requested an audience with Nixon earlier in the week, and were unable to interview him.
"We were at a meeting today, where he bestowed some honors on some police officers, we hoped we could ask him a question or two a that point when he was done, but he vamoosed pretty quickly after that, so there was naturally no chance to talk to him," Priddy said.
Other reporters also attended the session in hopes of asking questions of the governor. Nixon has not held a statehouse news conference since well before the GOP election victories earlier this month.
Statehouse Correspondent for KMOX Radio in St. Louis, Phill Brooks, was also denied access to the meeting. Brooks said he asked Bertelson for permission to join the group, and was told he was not invited. Brooks waited in the governor's reception area before the meeting, and was turned away at the door.
"In my four decades as a government reporter, I have never in Missouri encountered a situation in which the governor is meeting with selected reporters, in which he picks who get to cover him and reporters were explicitly excluded," Brooks said.
Brooks is director of Missouri Digital News that serves a variety of outlets across the state including the Columbia Missourian. He supervises the two other reporters who were blocked from attending the governor's briefing.
Virginia Young, Jefferson City bureau chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said the only knowledge she had of the session was that Nixon specifically invited the paper's St. Louis-based higher education reporter.
Bertelson declined an interview request.
Those attending where higher education reporters for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, the Sprintfield News-Leader and the Columbia Tribune along with a reporter from the national news service, Stateline. The only Missouri state government reporter allowed to attend was from The Associated Press.
About half of the news organizations with statehouse news reporters were excluded from the governor's session
In addition to the governor, Nixon had the acting commissioner of the Higher Education Department and the governor's adviser on higher education attend.
After the meeting, reporters allowed to cover the briefing session reported that Nixon repeated his call for course redesign efforts by higher education institutions.
It also was reported that Nixon warned that colleges and universities would face "substantial cuts" in the state's budget for the next fiscal year, that will begin in July. Nixon, according to The Associated Press said he would pressure the higher education institutions to keep tuition hikes reasonable.
Legislative and administration budget leaders have been warning that the state will have to reduce General Revenue spending by as much as $700 million due to the loss of federal economic recovery funds for states.
In recent months, however, state tax collections have run higher than expected leading to suggestions that the ultimate budget reductions for next year might be lower. Earlier this month, the person designated to be the next chair of the House Budget Committee, cited a budget cut range as low as $400 million.