City Government

Media Perks Questioned At Legislature


I have been a beneficiary of media perks for more than 50 years. It started in the 1960’s when I carried Speed Graphic cameras and film holders for my newspaperman father at Michigan State sports events in East Lansing, Michigan. The free meals, donuts, and soft drinks at Spartan Stadium press box were the best in the Big Ten.

The 1966 Rose Bowl committee gave me a basket load of bling and a crate of California Oranges delivered to my apartment in Lansing when I covered the MSU band performing at the game. In fact, it wasn’t until about 2003 that I sat in the stands for the very first time at a football game in Bronco Stadium.

By the time I was 18 I had established a local news bureau at Lansing City Hall for the Detroit Free Press which included a desk, phone, and basement parking spot–thanks to a local mayor seeking re-election. Working as a photographer for UPI during those days when Mitt Romney’s dad, Gov. George Romney, ran Michigan I had a parking spot at the Capitol and 24 hour access to the UPI office at the legislature.

When he ran for President two years later, Romney invited me to dine with him and Ambassador Bunker on Christmas Eve 1967 at the embassy in Saigon…another thrill for a 20 year old GI.

Castro and Church at Ernest Hemingway's Cuban home.

After coming and going at the Statesman from 1968 to 73, I free lanced in the Big Leagues with Time, Inc., NY TIMES, and NEWSWEEK. The 1977 flight to Cuba with Senator Frank Church aboard one of the Presidential jets that was once “Air Force One” was an experience of a lifetime, not to mention the visit with Fidel Castro.

I still have one of the cigars and two bottles of rum (both empty now) which Fidel gave me and other media visitors. Also I’ll wager I am the only guy in Boise with Fidel Castro’s business card.

The point of all this is that members of the media get plenty of perks–just look at the Bronco Football press box and the luxury booths for media reporting…or the free digs provided at the Idaho Legislature. None of it comes without a price.

There is a very strongly implied message that you are expected to root for the home team, not piss off the host, give the politicos you see each day a break, and keep your mouth shut to establish “trust” among your news sources. The GUARDIAN is banned from even receiving press releases and is NEVER invited to press announcements by either Boise PD or the office of the Mayor.

Which brings us to the present day situation.

The Idaho Legislative Council–the outfit that runs the nuts and bolts of the lawmaking body–is at a crossroads these days when it comes to media tenants. For an eternity the Associated Press and many of the print and electronic media outlets have been provided office space in the Statehouse at taxpayer expense. Lobbyists pay rent, but we think they should be evicted regardless of how much they pay.

Led by Republican House Speaker Lawrence Denney of Midvale, there is a growing skepticism about the media and whether or not members of the media should get free office space–“a “press room” or “media center.”

Denney told the Idaho, ““There is a public interest that they serve,” Denney explained, “but I don’t always see that they are always working in the public interest with their reporting or what they choose to report.”

Translate that to mean, “They better pay up or seek private digs.”

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Great anecdotes of your career.

    The current issue seems a little petty. The press corp should buck up and pay whatever the going rate is in other states. And the legislators should not get so worked up about some of these perks. Without the free press, I am afraid of who would keep the lawmakers accountable.

    I really like the real time blogging from the likes of Betsy Russel (Spokesman Review). No longer due we have to wait till the next morning to read what happened the day before.

  2. Even with his “heavy handed” way of doing things, you have to admit he has a point.
    I doubt if Ford Motor Company would ever offer Ralph Nader free office space.

  3. the law of reciprocity

  4. Without the free space accommodation, the media will – in these days of TV reporters shooting their own video and radio stations being essentially out of the news business – be less inclined to pick the low-hanging legislative “news” fruit they so persistently feed us when the Xgr is in town.

    This will result in lawmakers getting less face time to promote their pet projects.

    The traditional and existing arrangement is symbiotic.

    Unless things have changed in the past couple of decades, the media pays for its infrastructure (phone lines, data transfer, etc.). If they’re not, they should.

    Reporters still have to feed the meters surrounding the capitol and a station logo has traditionally not been adequate insurance against parking tickets.

    I wouldn’t look for any major changes happening soon.

  5. Very good post, Dave. Maybe one of your best reads. And your final point needed amplification of this kind.

    One point you missed was the agenda behind the Idaho Reporter doing the story in the first place. If you recall, those reporters weren’t credentialed in the statehouse because their paychecks are signed by a lobbyist organization, the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Now they’re cynically using the media to get their way. Very sad.

  6. I enjoyed the biographical information in this article. I too started with UPI in Spokane and Los Angeles before joining the Statesman staff in 1965. I remember the Speed Graphic and it was being used by Scoop when I started on the Evening Statesman. Photo of Church and Castro is super. I never met Castro but did shake hands with Church in City Hall across from the Statesman Building. I never got a chance to cover the Legislature but if I hadn’t been enlisted in the Coast Guard for boot camp I could have covered the Washington Legislature for UPI. Jim McLaughlin called the Legislature “the cave of the winds.” (We worked on the night desk at the Statesman). Keep up the good work.

Get the Guardian by email

Enter your email address: