The Alaska Press Club, an association representing outlets across different platforms, is calling on Gov. Mike Dunleavy to face the press after a month of dodging reporters’ questions and refusing to hold open press availabilities following the abrupt resignation of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.
“In communications with state officials and the governor’s office, our reporters across platforms are experiencing an unprecedented lack of transparency and lack of adherence to generally accepted professional communication practices,” the board writes. “As a candidate, Gov. Dunleavy pledged to restore trust in state government through honesty and transparency; yet his refusal to answer unscripted questions is unprecedented among Alaska governors.”
The letter was sent on Friday and outlines a litany of concerns with the governor’s handling of the press, who amid the pandemic and economic turmoil has not held an open news conference since Sept. 1. Since then, he’s ducked any questions regarding Clarkson—falsely claiming that he’s barred by state law from saying anything—and the few interviews he’s had have generally been limited to specific topics with his press team demanding to screen questions ahead of time.
And as if to put a fine underline on the issue, the Anchorage Daily News broke the story today about how three members of Dunleavy’s administration (not Dunleavy, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer or Chief of Staff Ben Stevens) have tested positive for covid-19. The administration’s statement about the new cases, which come a week after the governor appeared maskless at a Republican fundraiser, was not widely distributed to all outlets.
The organization’s complaints are laid out like this:
“Access to information has been withheld for certain news organizations while it is offered to others that are perceived to provide more favorable coverage. New concepts are introduced without details or written information. Questions to the Department of Health and Social Services go unanswered. Public information requests stall. Most troubling: The governor will no longer answer reporter questions without vetting them first.”
The organization also goes on to reference the press guidelines set out by the National Governors Association, which urges governors to adopt an open and transparent attitude. It notes, correctly, that uncomfortable news stories are best handled when there’s a working relationship between the governor’s administration and the press. Dunleavy took to social media at the end of July to attack the Anchorage Daily News’ reporting on covid-19.
The letter notes that according to the NGA’s guidelines, “It is hard to blame a reporter for not presenting the governor’s side of a developing story if he or she could not reach anyone who could express the governor’s point of view.”
The Alaska Press Club was joined by the Alaska Broadcasters Association’s Board of Directors, which wrote a letter on Tuesday, urging Dunleavy to face the press and field unscreened questions.
“Alaskans are looking to you as the highest elected official in the State to answer questions on important issues of the day and for your perspective, not surrogates answering questions on the administration’s behalf,” explained the letter, which was published by KINY Radio.
The letter also says that while group appreciates the regular appearances by Dave Stieren, a talk-show personality-turned-Communications-and-Community-Outreach-Officer in the Dunleavy administration, it’s not a stand in for the governor himself. They say Dunleavy should hold twice-monthly press conferences to hear from reporters.
“This is why the Alaska Broadcasters Association is taking the unprecedented step of urging a Governor to hold open media availabilities – on at least a twice-monthly basis – without precleared, scripted questions or limits on topics for discussion and for media to be allowed to ask follow up questions.”