Instead of writing a public safety news article today, I'm writing about press freedom.
That's because Alameda County's elected district attorney, Pamela Price, refused to let me into her official press conference this morning.
As a veteran Bay Area reporter who has been in journalism for 20 years, covering many institutions and agencies, I have never experienced anything like it.
Price reportedly sought to have me tossed from a press conference in March, but cooler heads prevailed.
Read more First Amendment coverage on TBS.
The subject of Wednesday's event focused on efforts Price has made since taking office on behalf of crime victims and their families. It's a topic of high interest to me and one I've reported on a lot.
As a result, I wanted to let readers know from DA Price directly what she's done on that front this year.
I still plan to do that, but it will now have to wait until I can review audio of the meeting and, hopefully, get some questions answered separately by her press team.
That does the public, and Price herself, a disservice.
In the meantime, here's what happened Wednesday and what led up to it.
I've been seeking interviews with DA Pamela Price since February when I first reported on deep criticism within the office from many veteran staff.
Since then, the office has made it clear that it has not been pleased with my coverage, which often includes questions about Price's work as well as quotes from her and her supporters and links to her own platform.
In public remarks and on the campaign trail, Price has dismissed criticism of her office, including what is reported in the media, as "fundamentally racist."
That has included criticism from other people of color who are lobbying for a recall election.
The DA's office has never requested a correction to any of my stories.
But, in August, Price's office removed me from its media email list, which I have been on for many years, without notice or explanation.
I have written to the DA's office about this several times since October and been told only that the "media list … remains under review."
Fast forward to today, when I found out about an 11 a.m. press conference and planned to attend it along with other Bay Area news media.
But, when I showed up, a DA inspector who recognized me immediately asked me to step aside and wait.
Meanwhile, other members of the media were welcomed into the room without any review of their affiliations or credentials.
After a few minutes, two members of Price's staff — Communications Director Haaziq Madyun and PIO Patti Lee — walked up and let me know I would not be allowed inside.
They told me the office was doing "a full review" of all reporters and media organizations following unnamed "safety issues" at the office.
(I wrote about one of them earlier this month.)
Lee said "one of the fallouts" from the security issues was that the office can't "just let people in if they haven’t been, like, stamped."
I have met Lee numerous times and Madyun also made it clear he was familiar with me and my publication, The Berkeley Scanner.
I showed Lee my official Oakland press credential, which is issued annually by the Oakland Police Department if certain well-established criteria are met.
I pointed out that numerous members of the media, perhaps a half-dozen people, had walked past me into the room without undergoing any screening. Some were asked to sign a check-in sheet but others were not.
Madyun and Lee offered no explanation for the apparently disparate treatment aside from saying they hadn't seen it.
I also told them that the DA's office had never asked for any materials or credentials from me despite my repeated inquiries about why I had been removed from the email list.
"The matter remains under review and we will follow up," Madyun told me.
I told them the exclusion felt personal because no one else had been stopped or checked on the way into the room.
"This is not a personal thing," Lee said. "This is not in our hands."
"Just to be clear," Madyun added, "you did not hear from me that we do not like your coverage, or I do not like your coverage."
Read more about Pamela Price on The Scanner.
The three of us talked for about five minutes, while another reporter listened in, and then they went into the press conference while I stayed in the hall.
Minutes later, I ran into DA Price coming out of the elevator. I asked her to allow me access to the press conference.
We have interacted numerous times at other press events, always with civility and decorum. Like Lee, she is familiar with who I am.
"They won’t let me in," I told Price. "I think you’re the only one who can approve it."
"I really want to report on what you have to say," I told her.
Price kept walking and quietly said I needed to take up the issue with Madyun.
Then I waited in the lobby outside the press event for over an hour in an effort to ask Price to explain the decision. The event ended but she never came back that way.
Let me be clear: I don't know who is on the DA's office email list (although I will be seeking to find that out through a Public Records Act request).
Wednesday's session, "Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price Gives Year-End Update on Services Provided for Victims of Crime and Their Families," was announced by email as a "media event" to a BCC'd list of news outlets. Representatives from numerous Bay Area news channels were in the room.
The event took place during business hours at her office headquarters.
I also want to be clear: If DA Price doesn't choose to answer my questions or grant me a sit-down interview (which I have repeatedly requested), that's entirely her choice.
But the law is different when it comes to broader press conferences.
"The First Amendment does not allow the government to play favorites among the press," said David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, of those events. "When it’s opening something to the press as a whole, it cannot manipulate the coverage by denying access to some press but not others."
Loy also noted that public officials cannot grant access to legacy, mainstream media outlets to the exclusion of one-person shops or freelancers.
"They can’t just shut out an entire segment of the press," he said. "They’re just not allowed to game the system that way."
"If you gather news and report to the public," Loy added, "you’re the press."
See a Berkeley Scanner thread on X (formerly Twitter) about what happened Wednesday morning. We'll continue to follow the story.
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