Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke’s 2020 campaign, under heavy fire for ejecting Breitbart News senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak from an event on Tuesday, has confirmed it will not remove Breitbart News reporters from the candidate’s future events, according to a report.
Earlier Wednesday, the O’Rourke campaign claimed a staff member booted Breitbart News senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak from a speech at Benedict College, a historically black college in Columbia, South Carolina, in an attempt to protect black students.
O’Rourke’s press secretary, Aleigha Cavalier, addressed Pollak’s removal in a statement, saying that the while the Texas Democrat “believes in the right to a free press,” Breitbart News “walks the line between being news and a perpetrator of hate speech.”
“Given this particular Breitbart employee’s previous hateful reporting and the sensitivity of the topics being discussed with students at an HBCU, a campaign staffer made the call to ask him to leave to ensure that the students attending the event felt comfortable and safe while sharing their experiences as young people of color,” Cavalier added.
Asked by CNN if Breitbart News would be barred from future events, the O’Rourke campaign said no.
“I look forward to @CNN & @nytimes sticking up for @joelpollak & @BreitbartNews & publicly decrying this attack on a free press from Beta,” Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter. “Unless… they don’t actually care about freedom of the press & only care about their own power. Only time will tell!”
“Rob O’Rourke’s campaign has a journalist escorted out of an event by campus police,” Republican national spokesperson Elizabeth Harrington said. “Will the rest of the media be outraged by this “attack on the free press?”
Noah Shachtman, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast, tweeted: “If this account is accurate, it’s a pretty weak move by Team Beto.”
“No matter what you think of Breitbart, this is wrong,” New York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg said. “No campaign should be deciding who gets to cover its events. An event is either open to the press, or it is not. Freedom of the press is not a conditional right — it applies to every American regardless of their views.”
Pollak’s removal from the O’Rourke event came one day after the reporter had a polite exchange with the Texas Democrat in which he asked the candidate whether misquoting President Trump’s comments on the 2017 protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, lived up to with his vow to not “inflame” divisions in the country.
The O’Rourke campaign’s removal of a reporter puts it at odds with a pledge to protect press freedom made by the Texas Democrat. During an MSNBC town hall last year, O’Rouke declared: “We need to vigorously defend the freedom of the press.”
“If we don’t have a free press, if we cannot make informed decisions at the ballot box, if we can’t hold people like me accountable, and make sure that we’re held honest to the promises that we made, to the job that we’re performing in these positions of public trust, we’ll lose the essence of our democracy,” he added.