This morning, I saw a press release on Facebook that Rodney Davis would be touring Curtis Orchard this morning and that media were invited. The press release gave a contact number.
I knew Davis was already going to be at his offices this afternoon meeting with selected constituents. I was aware of planned protest there, but I’m not so interested in writing about those kinds of gatherings because there tend to be few surprises. The bee tour interested me. The Curtis Orchard employees are wonderful resources, and I was interested in how educating people leads to actual policy. I also wondered how Davis would answer some of the questions I hoped would be directed to him, for example, how the drastic weakening of the EPA affects his committee, what he thinks about the federal pollinator health task force President Obama put in place in 2014?
I emailed Smile Politely to see if they had anyone going out there. As was directed on the press release, I emailed and called Davis’s Communication Director, Ashley Phelps.
Awaiting response from Ms. Phelps, I called entomologist Professor Chris Dietrich — got a contact for a bee pollinator in town, looked up the new EPA proposals — in other words, did some ground work to be able to write a contextually informed article. Prof. Dietrich informed me that scientists, in their work life, try not to get involved political policy, but to present the facts when called upon. This is how journalists should operate also. If I decide I’m covering a campaign — I can’t actually be a protester or a campaigner — I want to have a clear observational field in my working life. Of course, like most citizens, I hold political views but I don’t let them get in the way of reporting facts.
Here follows email exchange with Ashley Phelps, Rodney’s campaign manager:
Gale Walden: Dear Ashley Phelps--I'd like to write about the tour Rep. Davis is taking this morning for Smile Politely, an online magazine, based in Champaign/Urbana. What do you need from me? I tried the phone number.
Ashley Phelps: Gale – this is for invited members of the media only and your publication was not invited.
GW: It's one of only two formats in town doing political coverage. Could you invite us?
I also blog for the Huffingtonpost, if you need national coverage.
AP: This is not a political event.
GW: I understand. It is a tour of Curtis Orchard about bees and bee protection—I’ve done research on the EPA and how to write about it. But I also understand that you have promoted it as media invited and if you deny media access to one format it becomes political. I’m a journalist, not a protester. In fact, when I decide to write about something, I remove myself from protests. Feel free to google me. I’ve written for several national publications. A lot of this community is interested in bees.
Can we know which media outlets you have invited? Because as you might know, Rodney Davis has come under scrutiny for not being accessible to all his constituents. Does he want to go on record as only being accessible to certain media outlets also?
AP: No response.
GW: Dear Ashley--
I just want to confirm that for a subject as important and apolitical to a whole area, filled with entomologists at the University of Illinois, that during a tour of a local orchard, where Rodney Davis will be learning about the importance of bees to our environment and possibly keeping an open mind about the EPA, which has been essential to protecting the bees, you will not allow a major news outlet in the area media access.
This was your press statement:
Champaign, IL – U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research, tomorrow will tour Curtis Orchard to learn more about their honeybee and apple operation. Davis is chair of the subcommittee that has jurisdiction over policies and statutes related to horticulture, including bees and organic agriculture as well as pest and disease management.
Media is invited and should contact Ashley Phelps at email@example.com or 309-264-5478 if they plan to attend.
WHAT: Curtis Orchard Tour
WHO: Congressman Rodney Davis
WHEN: Tuesday, May 9th, 11am-12pm
WHERE: 3902 S Duncan Rd, Champaign, IL 61822
PURPOSE: Learn more about honeybees and Rachel Coventry’s “World’s Best Tasting Honey.” Discuss what Congress can do to improve honeybee (and pollinators in general) habitat as well.
I contacted you. This did not say "only media deemed friendly to Rodney Davis" is invited. I've spoken to enough people that I'll write the article anyway, without the benefit of actually being there, but I really can't see how that helps you.
AP: No response.
Top photo by Tom Kacich.