HARRISBURG – Mayor Eric Papenfuse shows no signs of backing down on a ban of PennLive reporters to weekly briefings and media requests.
The mayor on Tuesday said the news outlet is nothing more than a gossip blog.
Dave LaTorre, founder of LaTorre Communications, could not believe that a government official of a capital city could make such a public relations blunder.
“I call this breaking into jail,” LaTorre said. “You break into jail and you create a problem that wasn’t there.”
LaTorre said in full disclosure, he voted and donated to Papenfuse’s campaign. He was disappointed by Papenfuse’s decision Monday to limit access to PennLive reporters, no matter the reason.
“To pick a fight right now clearly will drown out a lot of the positive vibe that we felt here in the city,” he said.
LaTorre pointed out the First Amendment right to free speech and the Freedom of Information Act that allow journalists to tell a story even if a public official does not agree with its content.
“All you can expect and hope for is a fair story,” LaTorre said, “where you’re allowed to tell your side of the story and you want an opportunity to tell your side of the story.”
Papenfuse said the ban was put in place because he does not believe PennLive is a credible news outlet, therefore it should not be held to the same standard.
“I think PennLive is the equivalent to Gawker (a self-proclaimed gossip blog), not the equivalent of the Washington Post,” Papenfuse said, “and it needs to be understood and treated as such.”
Coincidentally, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump revoked credentials of Washington Post reporters for similar reasons.
“I don’t think anything that PennLive does is good for democracy, is good for engaged citizenry, or is good for the City of Harrisburg,” Papenfuse said.
LaTorre believes Papenfuse’s ban flies in the face of transparency, which was a cornerstone of his bid for mayor.
“I would like Mayor Papenfuse to remember that he ran on a platform of transparency,” LaTorre said. “We’re not being transparent if we’re shutting out the largest newspaper in the coverage area.”
Papenfuse maintained that LaTorre does not have a full understanding of the social media landscape.
“I don’t think what (PennLive is) doing is legitimate journalism,” Papenfuse said. “I think it is trafficking in hate speech.”
When asked if even hate speech should be considered free speech, the mayor said not when it concerns an “anonymous post.” Papenfuse added that PennLive must better police its public comment sections to be considered a legitimate news source before he will release the ban.
ABC27 asked if writing an op-ed on his views would have been a better avenue to argue his disdain for the outlet and public comments.
“Write an op-ed on PennLive, which I’m not trying to draw traffic to? No!” he said.
LaTorre said that notion backfired since PennLive’s story on Papenfuse cutting off reporters has generated nearly 500 comments and thousands of page views.
“I’m looking at other comments. Twenty-six on one story,” LaTorre said. “Fifteen, 3, 5; this is Penn State story-type numbers.”
As a communications specialist, LaTorre advises Papenfuse to rescind his ban and apologize for the sake of the Office of Mayor and Harrisburg as a whole.
“Think about this decision. Reverse it,” he said, “and get back to governing.”
Papenfuse, however, offered no signs of backing down and instead doubled down, claiming he would make PennLive reporters’ jobs harder by denying interviews.
“They ought to be looking to alternative news sources to get their news,” Papenfuse said of PennLive readers. “PennLive is not doing a good job in informing them.”