Photo copyright 2007, Toledo Blade
There has been a long-running feud between Toledo mayor Carty Finkbeiner and local radio station WSPD-1370. Yesterday the dispute took an ugly turn, as afternoon talk show hosts Kevin Milliken and Brian Wilson and morning drive-time host Fred LeFebvre attempted to force their way into a news conference held by the mayor.
In the photo Brian Schwartz, Finkbeiner's public information officer, held the door to prevent Milliken from entering while allowing WSPD reporter Nik Rajkovic to attend. The feud, of course, is taking on a tragicomic life of its own, but there are larger constitutional issues at stake here.
Mr. Finkbeiner seems to be arguing that he has the right as mayor to tell media outlets who they can send to cover his news conferences, even going so far as to call Milliken a "stand-up comedian." As a reporter I have known Kevin Milliken for several years, bumping into him many times at events we both covered, and I can say unequivocally that he is a hardworking, conscientious journalist who takes his work seriously.
For Mr. Finkbeiner to claim the right to determine which representatives of the media are "legitimate" is an affront to the First Amendment. This responsibility lies with individual media outlets, not with government officials. At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, this administrative assertion is highly reminiscent of a certain fascist German regime.
While the feud has been marked by unfortunate decisions and comments by people on both sides, I think that WSPD is clearly in the right in this incident in fighting Mr. Finkbeiner's attempts to control the local media. While I would urge both parties to solve the ongoing disputes, I am troubled by the apparent attempts to stifle freedom of the press.