Sunrise Movement Blocks Reporter From Covering Climate Change Rally
A reporter barred from attending a climate event organized by the Sunrise Movement and headlined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke out today, as reporters from across the country took issue with the group’s decision to shut out someone who regularly covers climate issues.
Josh Siegel, an energy and environment reporter for the Washington Examiner, argued he was not allowed access to the event because he reports for the outlet, ostensibly because of its editorial lean.
“I am not comfortable drawing attention to myself, and away from my work, but as @sunrisemvmt begins their D.C. rally with @AOC and @SenSanders, I thought it was important to say that Sunrise would not grant me a credential to attend the event because I work for the @dcexaminer. … At a time when climate advocates are trying to unite the country, picking and choosing coverage seems wrong, especially when I am known for my fair, non-ideological reporting,” Siegel tweeted.
The Examiner is a well-established news website based in Washington, D.C. that has reporters covering Congress, the White House, and the campaign trail.
The Sunrise Movement burst on the scene in 2017 ahead of the midterms after previous groups failed to convince major universities around the county to divest their endowments from fossil fuels holdings. The aim was to get students and activists to take part in a “Sunrise Semester” of grassroots organizing leading up to Election Day.
Since then, it’s been revealed that The Sunrise Movement is funded by wealthy anti-fossil fuel groups like the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Wallace Global Fund.
In an interview today with Western Wire, Siegel spoke about how the Sunrise Movement said there would be no room for him and how they failed to reply to Siegel’s follow up requests.
Siegel said he understands the Sunrise Movement might be experiencing growing pains when it comes to dealing with large-scale media attention, but said he was frustrated upon realizing he was possibly singled out.
“I’ve been covering them [Sunrise Movement] and the Green New Deal for months and they’ve never responded to any of my inquires. Sunrise, a new organization, they’re pretty young, so I’m sure they’ve been overwhelmed with the attention, so some of that is understandable. But I haven’t found a colleague who just hasn’t blanketly not received any response,” Siegel said.
The Sunrise Movement attempted to smooth over the situation, but Siegel is skeptical of their response.
“I had other reporters from outlets such as Politico tell me they had RSVP’d after the date that I did and they were able to get in, no question,” Siegel said. “Sunrise did attempt to, after they saw the uproar, they did attempt to explain away and say, ‘oh, we turned down a dozen outlets, you’re not the only one.’ But I find that to be dubious in that no one else has spoken up about that and as you saw, I’m pretty known on the beat.”
Siegel referred to the many journalists who immediately tweeted in his defense, praising him as a fair-minded and honest reporter. Zack Colman, a Politico reporter and Siegel’s predecessor at the Examiner, covered the rally and tweeted:
“This is a bad look, @sunrisemvmt. @SiegelScribe is a stand-up reporter who covers climate and energy fairly and responsibly.”
Many of Siegel’s fellow journalists expressed deep disappointment in the organization’s handling of the incident, and defended both Siegel and the Examiner’s coverage.
Bill Loveless, Director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy’s Energy Journalism Initiative, tweeted, “This is wrong. @SiegelScribe and his colleague @JohnDSiciliano are solid reporters whose work I read daily.”
Likewise, Ben Storrow of E&E News, tweeted, “Add me to the chorus of climate and energy reporters who think this is ridiculous. @SiegelScribe is a tremendous reporter. Not only does restricting press access along perceived partisan lines dilute the climate debate, it harms our democracy. A bad look for @sunrisemvmt.”
Lisa Friedman, climate change reporter for the New York Times, agreed with Storrow’s assessment and responded, “+1. Very disappointing to hear @sunrisemvmt would engage in this sort of behavior.”
Julia Pyper of Greentech Media offered similar support.“#PressFreedom isn’t always convenient, which is precisely why it’s central to a functioning democracy. The definition of media has changed and lines have blurred. But responsible and informed journalists like @SiegelScribe should always have the ability to do their job.”
Siegel told Western Wire he appreciated the support from other reporters and even encouraging emails from the public. “Journalists always look out for each other, especially if you’re doing good work,” Siegel said.
However, Siegel noted it is becoming a broader trend of organizations to only allow press access to outlets they see as favorable, and that’s contributing to more polarization in the country.
“Talking in echo chambers, that’s a problem in general in the media landscape, where people read what they’re used to reading or with what they’re comfortable. That goes for television as well. And I think people should want to see as many perspectives as possible, so it just doesn’t make a ton of sense for groups to try and pick and choose and say ‘only these friendly audiences are going to tell my story the right way and no one else will be exposed.’ I just think that creates more tension … and creates more isolated ways we obtain our news. I think it’s just kind of bad for society overall,” Siegel said.
Despite not having access to the event, Siegel was ultimately able to cover the rally via live-stream and said he plans to provide fair coverage of the Sunrise Movement in the future.