Beginning in March 2020, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker held daily press conferences to update and answer questions from news media regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Jacobson has been a regular and active participant in the Governor’s COVID-19 press conferences.
Amy Jacobson is a veteran reporter who has worked for television and radio stations across the country for more than 25 years. For the last decade, Jacobson has been a journalist and morning show host on Salem Media’s Chicago station, AM 560 The Answer. Jacobson has been attending the governor’s COVID-19 press briefings on behalf of the station since April.
While some reporters have used the daily briefings to ask softball questions, such as how the governor is holding up, Jacobson has asked notably tough questions. Ultimately, she was banned from attending the briefings and asking questions after holding the governor accountable.
- On May 14, she asked about the Governor’s furlough of over 1,000 prisoners during the pandemic, including 64 convicted murderers.
- On Friday, May 15, Jacobson broke the story that Pritzker’s family had traveled to their equestrian estate in Wisconsin amid Illinois’ stay-at-home order — weeks after it was reported that his family was at another estate in Florida. The news raised questions about why the stay-at-home order did not apply to the governor’s family.
- On Saturday, May 16, Jacobson was a speaker at a “Reopen Illinois” rally in Chicago. Like other journalists, Jacobson sometimes speaks at public events and on news/talk programs other than her own to share her reporting and editorial views. While at the rally, she gave remarks that repeated views she had given on her radio show many times before.
- On Monday, May 18, 2020 — only three days after Jacobson broke the news that Governor Pritzker’s family was staying in Wisconsin and at the very next press conference — Jacobson attempted to participate in the Governor’s telephone press conference. Pritzker’s press secretary told Jacobson she was banned from the briefings because she had attended a rally advocating for Illinois to end its lockdown. When questioned by reporters about Jacobson’s exclusion the next day, Pritzker told the press corps that Jacobson could not attend because advocating for Illinois to end its stay-at-home order represents an “extreme position.”
In an email to Jacobson stating the fact of her ban, Governor Pritzker’s press secretary said that she was no longer permitted to participate because she was no longer “an impartial journalist.” The Governor doubled-down on the decision, defending it to another journalist saying her remarks at the rally were “taking an extreme position” and that she “represents a talk show that has a particular point of view”.
When a government official sets himself up as the judge of his own press coverage to determine when particular reporters are no longer “impartial,” he is admitting viewpoint discrimination. When he defends his decision to kick out journalist because she has “a particular point of view” and what he believes is an “extreme position” in her editorial stance, he is basing his decision on the content of her speech and his unwillingness to tolerate her views.
This is just what has happened here. Jacobson was consistently asking hard questions about the Governor’s policies and the First Family that made the Governor and his press secretary uncomfortable during his press conferences. The government has no interest in ensuring only “impartial” news media can cover public affairs. In fact, quite the opposite: the First Amendment protects a strong, independent press corps that embraces a wide variety of viewpoints.