Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Government presses on press again

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling is bad news for PA press and maybe for press in other states, too.

Government presses on press again


And so with the press in the crosshairs of government -- as in unwarranted investigations of outlets as diverse as the AP and Fox News -- now comes U.S. Supreme Court action further restricting media.

The high court Monday declined to take up a Pennsylvania case in which the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette challenged a state law banning media access to polling places.

The newspaper wanted to watch the dry run last year of the state's new and controversial voter ID law by being inside polling places to see what happened at sign-in tables when voters were asked to show photo IDs.

The new law, still tied up in litigation and facing another court date next month, was not in effect. But poll workers were instructed to ask for photos anyway as a test of the provision should it become law.

The Supremes, without comment, refused to hear an appeal the Post-Gazette brought after its reporters and photographers where barred from polling places in Allegheny and Beaver counties last Election Day.

State law says only voters, registered poll watchers and election workers can be within 10 feet of polling site entrances during voting.

The problem here is twofold: no matter what you might think of today's media (and, from what I can tell, nobody thinks much good about it), it has a watchdog quality that always should be protected; second, this ruling upholding states' rights to keep the press out of polling places will very likely lead to new challenges in other states, such as Ohio, where lower federal courts have ruled in favor of press access to polling places.

So unless the state Legislature changes the law here (and what do YOU think the chances of that might be?), voters are on their own if and when voter ID is fully in effect.

And if the pattern here -- as established by the Obama administration and now the Supreme Court -- continues, the role of media as government watchdog can only further decline.

If you think that's good, get ready to embrace government with less and less transparency.



Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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