In recent weeks, Republican lawmakers have appeared to pull away from their constituents, concerned citizens, and reporters. An Arkansas senator’s office staff turned off phones and locked doors. A Virginia representative failed to appear at two events; her staff said the invitations contained errors. Officials in California and Utah have cut town hall meetings short, or encouraged legislators to postpone them, out of nebulous concerns for safety.
In Illinois, one elected representative hosted 18,000 people for a telephone town hall, while the governor addressed an audience of thousands through Facebook live. “The technology enabled both officials to claim rightfully that they were talking with constituents, and large numbers of them at that,” writes CJR correspondent Jackie Spinner. “But, in the more controlled virtual space, they also were able to avoid potential confrontation with voters and questions from the press.”
The appearance of access should not be mistaken for the genuine item, argues Spinner. And the country’s heightened discourse, however unflattering and uncomfortable for politicians, is no excuse for lawmakers to avoid their constituents or to bypass the press. Read Spinner’s story, “Retreat from town hall,” at CJR.org.
Be sure to read these new stories from correspondents to CJR's United States Project:
- “In the end, perhaps nothing is wholly open or transparent.” The City of Atlanta released 1.47 million pages of documents connected to a bribery investigation. Timothy Pratt went to City Hall to watch local reporters wrestle with the document dump. “Even after a city staggers toward some show of transparency, reporters still have to decipher how that city makes its decisions, and who benefits most,” he writes.
- “Lifestyle sells Texas Monthly better.” Though the magazine’s new editor in chief qualified his comments to CJR in a letter to readers, Lyz Lenz reports on the concerns among staff members for “the future of the magazine as a home for ambitious journalism and celebrated writing.”
- “Everyone genuinely seems to care. Collectively, not much changes.” Paul Delaney, a New York Times veteran and a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, provides a deeper history of diversity issues at his former paper. “I, for one, never dreamed my chosen profession would be confronting the exact same racial issues in the 21st century as it did in mid-20th century and earlier periods.”