A Chicago radio station filed a lawsuit this morning against Democratic Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker after his administration banned one of its on-air hosts from attending state-level Coronavirus press briefings. Veteran journalist Amy Jacobson co-hosts the morning show on AM 560 'The Answer,' which is owned by Townhall Media's parent company, Salem Communications. The suit alleges that Pritzker's press team used Jacobson's appearance at an anti-shutdown rally last month as a pretext to banish a journalist who'd asked challenging questions and contributed to reporting that resulted in public relations headaches for the governor. The Liberty Justice Center, which is representing Jacobson and her employer in this case, laid out its position in a press release published minutes ago:
On Friday, May 15, Jacobson broke the story that Pritzker’s family had traveled to their equestrian estate in Wisconsin amid Illinois’ stay-at-home order — weeks after it was reported that his family was at another estate in Florida. The news raised questions about why the stay-at-home order did not apply to the governor’s family. On the day of the governor’s next press briefing, Pritzker’s press secretary told Jacobson she was banned from the briefings because she had attended a rally advocating for Illinois to end its lockdown. When questioned by reporters about Jacobson’s exclusion the next day, Pritzker told the press corps that Jacobson could not attend because advocating for Illinois to end its stay-at-home order represents an “extreme position.” The governor went on to say: “That is not a reporter ... once upon a time she was a reporter, but she proved that she is no longer a reporter.”
“Gov. Pritzker has been in the hot seat over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s visible from his reactions to Amy Jacobson’s questions that her reporting made him uncomfortable. But what the governor appears to not understand is that Americans have a right to hold their elected officials accountable, and one of the ways they do this is through a vibrant, free press,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center. “It’s not up to Gov. Pritzker to pick and choose which reporters can cover him based on how much he agrees with their coverage or their points of view. And keeping reporters out of the room because he disagrees with their line of questioning or point of view is a gross violation of the First Amendment.”
As mentioned in the above excerpt, the suit claims that Pritzker's team is retaliating against Jacobson for asking pointed questions, and for helping confirm part of a major story that raised accusations of hypocrisy against the governor and his family:
Gov. J.B. Pritzker acknowledges family members have been in Florida and Wisconsin during coronavirus shutdown https://t.co/g4bEDtmNe8— Jim Geraghty (@jimgeraghty) May 23, 2020
Pritzker's office seized on Jacobson's speech at a public protest as evidence that she doesn't qualify as a journalist, citing offensive signs that were held by a handful of attendees. Jacobson explicitly and publicly condemned those placards at the time. She received the following email informing her that she'd been denied access to the governor's subsequent briefings:
This story by Chicago media maven Robert Feder describes the controversy and includes quotes from other journalists who appear to agree that Jacobson's role at a "Re-open Illinois" event in May crossed a line from reporting into activism. Jacobson says she's an opinion journalist who shouldn't be excluded from press conferences because the governor disagrees with her views, noting that her public comments have been consistent. "Everything I had said at that rally, I'd been saying on our station for just about six weeks," Jacobson tells Townhall. "And now [the governor] is surprised all of a sudden that I have an opinion?" She points out that the content of her message to the gathering urged kindness and specified that the virus is not a 'hoax.'
The television-reporter-turned-radio-host says that although some media colleagues seem to be taking the governor's side, "a lot of them don't like that [the governor's office] kicked me out" of the briefings. Jacobson recalls that the governor had twice been forced to admit that she was correct about facts he'd previously denied or disputed -- but it was not until after she became involved in reporting on Pritzker's family traveling to properties in other states during the Illinois lockdown that she was "never allowed to ask another question." She adds, "I think they'd been looking for an excuse to get rid of me." As for the lawsuit, Jacobson expresses confidence that it will succeed, explaining that she just wants to re-enter the fray. "All I want is to get back back in that press room. I've been asking questions in this town since 1996," she says. The suit was filed with the US District Court for the northern district of Illinois earlier today.