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UPDATE: Illinois Governor Backs Down, Reinstates Chicago Radio Host Previously Banned From COVID Briefings

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, Pool

Earlier this month, we brought you an exclusive report about a lawsuit filed against Democratic Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on behalf of a Chicago radio host who'd been barred from participating in the governor's coronavirus press briefings. Amy Jacobson is co-host of the morning show on AM 560's "The Answer," a Chicago radio station owned by Townhall Media's parent company, Salem Communications. Earlier in her career, she served as a television reporter in the city.

The trouble seemed to start when Jacobson asked a series of pointed questions that elicited inaccurate responses from Pritzker, who was forced to correct himself. She also contributed to reporting about the whereabouts of Pritzker's family during Illinois' strict lockdown (Florida and Wisconsin), which caused a public relations headache for the governor. Shortly thereafter, when Jacobson delivered remarks at a "Reopen Illinois" rally in downtown Chicago, Pritzker's office pounced, seizing on the incident as an excuse to bar Jacobson from participating. Their stated rationale referenced offensive signs held by random citizens at the event, which Jacobson had already publicly denounced. Jacobson told Townhall that her only goal was to induce the governor's office to reverse course and once again permit her to take part in the briefings. This week, the Liberty Justice Center -- the organization representing Jacobson's interests -- declared victory:

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has invited Salem Media journalist Amy Jacobson back to his press briefings in response to a federal lawsuit filed against him and his press secretary...Liberty Justice Center President and co-founder Pat Hughes said the governor’s response to the lawsuit represents a major victory for all Illinoisans who seek to hold their elected officials accountable. “Gov. Pritzker’s ban on Amy Jacobson was a complete overreach and he’s right to walk it back. The governor may not like when journalists ask tough questions and he may not always agree with their coverage, but Americans have a constitutional right to hold their elected officials accountable. One of the most important ways they do this is through a free and vibrant press,” Hughes said...“Amy Jacobson has a long history in Chicago as a dogged journalist who asks tough questions. We’re happy that she can finally get back to doing what she does best – asking the questions that are on the minds of so many in our audience,” said Jeff Reisman, regional vice president and general manager of AM 560 The Answer.

In a mid-May email, the governor's press secretary informed Jacobson that she would "no longer be invited to participate" in the press conferences because she was not an "impartial journalist." This abrupt verdict was rendered just days after Jacobson had contributed to reporting about members of the governor's family moving from one family out-of-state estate to another, amid Illinois' stay-at-home orders. In a new letter addressed to attorneys representing Jacobson in the matter, the state's Attorney General's office effectively cried uncle:

"In short, Ms. Jacobson may participate fully in the Governor's press access." Her show, "The Morning Answer," highlighted this story from Chicago media reporter Robert Feder:

In what supporters are hailing as a victory for press freedom, Amy Jacobson has won her battle to attend Governor J.B. Pritzker’s media briefings as a journalist. Jacobson, who co-hosts mornings on Salem Media news/talk WIND 560-AM with Dan Proft, sued Pritzker and his press secretary, Jordan Abudayyeh, earlier this month for barring Jacobson from daily press conferences...On Monday Pritzker and Abudayyeh rescinded the ban and invited Jacobson “to participate in the Governor’s press access on the same basis as other journalists.” The walk-back came in the form of a letter from the office of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. 

Jacobson's reinstatement could prove somewhat awkward not only for Pritzker and his team but for members of the Illinois media who appeared to defend the governor's decision to bar the talk show host. Jacobson's Twitter feed is available here.

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