O’Rourke campaign says it won’t ban Breitbart from future events
The Beto O’Rourke campaign is not apologizing for Tuesday’s removal of a Breitbart staffer from a campaign event in South Carolina.
The campaign said in a statement on Wednesday that Breitbart “walks the line between being news and a perpetrator of hate speech.”
At the same time, when asked by CNN, the campaign said access will not be restricted in the future.
Breitbart allies like Donald Trump Jr. have decried the treatment of Joel Pollak, a writer and radio host for the website.
Numerous members of the news media, including some that object to Breitbart’s far-right political advocacy, have also criticized the O’Rourke campaign.
“No matter what you think of Breitbart, this is wrong,” New York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg wrote on Twitter. “No campaign should be deciding who gets to cover its events. An event is either open to the press, or it is not. Freedom of the press is not a conditional right — it applies to every American regardless of their views.”
Press access has been politicized in an era in which the president and his allies routinely exclude reporters from certain events and suspends access to the White House. Most recently, the White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham suspended the hard pass of Playboy columnist Brian Karem over a confrontation at the Rose Garden.
Breitbart is a far-right website with has a history of publishing misleading stories about Democrats and Trump’s critics. The site also has close ties to the Trump administration, and many of its writers have gone on to work in the White House.
During the 2016 campaign, its chairman, Stephen Bannon, went to work for the Trump campaign as CEO. Later, Bannon worked as Trump’s chief political strategist in the White House, before departing in 2017. Bannon then returned to Breitbart, referring to it as a “f***ing machine” that he would use to “crush the opposition.” In early 2018, Bannon left Breitbart after making comments critical of Donald Trump Jr.
Pollak, who also serves as Breitbart’s senior editor at large, famously confronted Joe Biden recently on the campaign trial, accusing the Democratic candidate of misquoting Trump’s statement on the neo-Nazis.
Pollak had a press credential to attend an O’Rourke event on Tuesday afternoon at Benedict College, a historically black college.
“Several minutes after the 3:00 p.m. event had been scheduled to begin, a staff member in a Beto O’Rourke t-shirt approached this reporter and asked what outlet I represented,” Pollak wrote in a post published Tuesday that described the incident from his perspective.
A few minutes later, a campus police officer approached him and brought him outside.
A Breitbart spokesperson fired back at O’Rourke’s campaign in a statement saying, “The false accusation that Breitbart is racist, or that its award winning reporter — an Orthodox Jew, married to a black woman who serves in the military — is either racist or would make anyone at a black university uncomfortable is absurd. The irony of Mr. O’Rourke — who has stated himself that he is the beneficiary of ‘white privilege’ — purporting to decide for black students who should be banned from events that are open to the press, or what they should feel, is not lost on us.”
CNN’s Caroline Kenny witnessed part of the incident. “About 10 minutes before the event started, a police officer walked in with an advance staffer and they asked him to come with them. He never came back in the room,” she said.
According to Pollak, an O’Rourke staffer “said that I was being ejected because I had been ‘disruptive’ at past events.”
Pollak denied being disruptive.
On Wednesday, O’Rourke’s national press secretary Aleigha Cavalier issued this explanation: “Beto for America believes in the right to a free press and works hard to ensure the campaign reflects that. However, whether it’s dedicating an entire section of their website to ‘black crime,’ inferring that immigrants are terrorists, or using derogatory terms to refer to LGBTQ people, Breitbart News walks the line between being news and a perpetrator of hate speech. Given this particular Breitbart employee’s previous hateful reporting and the sensitivity of the topics being discussed with students at an HBCU, a campaign staffer made the call to ask him to leave to ensure that the students attending the event felt comfortable and safe while sharing their experiences as young people of color.”
When asked whether the campaign would be kicking Breitbart out of any events moving forward, she responded, “We will continue making Beto available to the media and as many events as possible open to the press.”
When pressed on whether reporters from Breitbart or any other outlet, regardless of ideology, will face restrictions on access to future events, Cavalier said “there will be no restricted access to future events.”
CNN’s Oliver Darcy contributed to this story.