LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts pushed back Wednesday on criticism of his new media credentialing policy that has been slammed as unconstitutional and a potential pretext to exclude media outlets that don’t share his conservative political views.
Groups such as Media of Nebraska, which includes The World-Herald, the Washington, D.C.-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the ACLU of Nebraska have called on the governor to revise the policy, saying it asks questions that bear no relationship to the stated reasons for credentialing: “operational limits” and “security reasons.”
After a press conference to proclaim May as “Beef Month,” Ricketts said the application form for credentials to cover his Capitol news briefings asks only “neutral” questions. He said that concerns it would be used to exclude media that he doesn’t favor are “unfounded.”
“Folks, at the end of the day it’s only a dozen questions. It probably takes less than 10 minutes to fill out. It’s not that big of a deal,” the governor said.
Ricketts did not have a written press credentialing process until recently, after The World-Herald wrote about a North Omaha community news website that had been denied access to the governor’s media briefings and barred from asking questions of Ricketts.
The stated reason was that the nonprofit news site, NOISE Omaha, was an “advocacy group” that was funded by “liberal donors.” The donors include the Sherwood Foundation, which was founded by philanthropist Susie Buffett, the daughter of billionaire Warren Buffett; the Omaha Community Foundation; and a foundation originally established by the family of The World-Herald’s founder, Gilbert Hitchcock.
Shortly after the story about NOISE Omaha was published, and shortly after the rejection was criticized, Ricketts announced a new policy — that media must apply for credentials to cover the governor’s press briefings. The application asks a variety of questions, including how the media organization is financed, if there is a “clear distinction” between the editorial and news divisions, if the applicant resists “pressures” from interest groups, and whether the outlet belongs to any trade groups.
Those kinds of questions, according to critics, go beyond the “viewpoint neutral” criteria for media access that have been upheld in federal courts. Media of Nebraska, which represents the state’s newspapers and broadcast media, urged its members to not apply for credentials due to its concerns about restricting freedom of the press to cover government and its officials.
Ricketts, on Wednesday, said that “a dialogue” was continuing with Media of Nebraska about the new credentialing process.
A showdown over the issue had been anticipated on Wednesday morning at a 10 a.m. press conference at the Capitol. A spokesman for the governor previously said Ricketts would host an event requiring credentials — the first since the application was released in April — on Wednesday. But early Wednesday morning, the 10 a.m. press conference was canceled in place of a different event at a steakhouse in Lincoln, and members of the media were informed that no credentials would be necessary at the private location.
At the event, Ricketts signed a proclamation declaring May as “Beef Month,” and unveiled a new promotion, the “Good Life, Good Steaks, Beef Passport program.” Visitors of at least 11 of the 40 restaurants participating in the beef passport program qualify for a prize drawing.
The governor, who earlier this year declared a “Meat on the Menu” day to push back against a meat-free day held in Colorado, said that beef is part of a healthy diet, and that Nebraska would be “devastated” if its residents quit eating beef.