The Press Club of Long Island is deeply concerned about the ejection of two journalists from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s re-election campaign kick-off rally on June 28.
Pat Biancaniello, editor of Smithtown Matters, and David Ambro, managing editor of the Smithtown News, were invited to the rally, identified themselves as journalists when they arrived and were given press credentials that they insist they wore.
Both Biancaniello and Ambro said they were asked to leave without explanation, and then were promptly escorted out of the rally. Ambro said that he had photographed a protester when the ushers appeared.
On her way out, Biancaniello noted, one member of the crowd scoffed, “Bye, bye.”
The Zeldin camp later apologized to these journalists. When reached by the Press Club, Zeldin said in an email, “As Americans, we cherish our Constitution, freedoms and liberties, and that includes our sacred First Amendment protecting freedom of the press … The press serves an important role to keep Americans informed of facts that allow us to form our own independent judgment on matters before our community, nation and world.” The congressman, who was reportedly not present when the journalists were removed, said Biacaniello and Ambro were confused as protesters, and he invited them back to his events.
While we appreciate Zeldin’s apology and strong statement on the press, we do not believe Biancaniello and Ambro should have been removed from this event in the first place. We see this most recent incident as part of a larger pattern of mistreatment of the press.
The Trump administration set the stage in February 2017 when then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer excluded The New York Times, CNN, Politico, The Los Angeles Times and BuzzFeed from a press briefing.
Around that same time, President Trump began calling the press the “enemy of the people.” It was a phrase often used in the past by communist dictators to refer to dissidents, or political opponents. Mr. Trump has repeatedly employed the term to speak of hard-working journalists simply doing their jobs — most recently at a June 25 political rally in South Carolina.
Three days later, a lone gunman opened fire on the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Md., killing four journalists and a sales assistant. The shooting appears to have been precipitated by a personal dispute, not the president’s words. The increasingly inflammatory rhetoric against and mistreatment of the press, however, is dangerous and must stop.
As a nation, we must afford journalists the protections that we have from the time of our founding, thus allowing them reveal important truths. That is, they must be able to report on the political activities of our elected leaders and candidates — without favor to one news outlet over another, without fear of expulsion and without fear of physical harm.
We implore everyone, whether they are members of the press or not, to keep an eye out for incidents in which reporters have been mistreated and report them to the Press Club at PressClubofLI@gmail.com.
–– The Board of the Press Club of Long Island, a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists