COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) has styled himself as a champion of press freedom, tweeting last October: “The press is not the enemy of the people but the best defense against tyranny.”
It is now August, and with his poll numbers falling in the Democratic presidential primary, O’Rourke has decided that he is entitled to abuse members of the press who cannot be relied upon to provide favorable coverage.
O’Rourke’s campaign ejected this Breitbart News reporter from a speech at Benedict College, a historically black college, on Tuesday afternoon.
This reporter was standing along the side of a lecture hall in the basement of the Henry Pinder Fine Arts Humanities Center, waiting for the event to start, together with roughly 200 students and college staff members. Other news outlets had set up cameras in the back of the room.
Several minutes after the 3:00 p.m. event had been scheduled to begin, a staff member in a Beto O’Rourke t-shirt approached this reporter and asked what outlet I represented. Upon reading the press credential on my chest, he put a hand on my shoulder and said, cheerfully, “Oh, hey. All right.”
A few minutes later, before the event began, a campus police officer approached this reporter and motioned for me to accompany him to the back of the room, adding that I should bring any property I had with me. In the hallway outside, he informed me that I was to leave.
A different member of the O’Rourke campaign staff, who said his name was “Steven” and would not give a last name, said that I was being ejected because I had been “disruptive” at past events.
This reporter has covered two O’Rourke events. The first was at a protest outside a shelter for migrant teens in Homestead, Florida, in June; the second was at the College of Charleston “Bully Pulpit” lecture in Charleston, South Carolina, on Monday evening. At no point was there any disruption whatsoever.
This reporter asked a question during a press gaggle on Monday evening; that was the only interaction of any kind with the candidate.
The question asked the Democratic presidential hopeful whether misquoting Trump’s comments on riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 was consistent with O’Rourke’s pledge to “heal” and not “inflame” divisions in this country.
In the hallway at Benedict, “Steven” threatened this reporter, saying that I could either leave voluntarily or be “officially uninvited” from campus, suggesting arrest.
This reporter complied with the police officer, who said that he was just doing his job.
This reporter has appeared regularly as a guest on MSNBC, and has covered the first two Democrat Party presidential primary debates in the 2020 cycle, with the approval of both MSNBC and CNN.
In addition, this reporter has covered campaign events for all of the major primary candidates, including former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
During a town hall that aired on MSNBC last year, O’Rourke was asked by a college professor what he would do to protect press freedom. He said: “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.”
The press is not the enemy of the people but the best defense against tyranny. We need to vigorously defend the freedom of the press. It’s essential for our democracy. pic.twitter.com/LnqtevuOCV
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 30, 2018
He added that “we need to vigorously defend the freedom of the press” and that “we need to call out violations.”
Benedict College is a private institution that has hosted many distinguished political speakers in the past, such as President Barack Obama, who told an audience there in 2015: “There are neighborhoods where it is easier for you to buy a handgun… than it is for you to buy a fresh vegetable.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.