The 60-second interview: Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press City Hall reporter
CAPITAL: On Tuesday, you reported that the media has been barred from attending 53 events held by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and has had limited access to 30 others. Were you surprised by those tallies? What prompted you to pursue the analysis?
LEMIRE: Access is something The Associated Press always seeks. Most publicly, the AP led a group of more than three dozen news organizations asking for more photographer access to the White House. During the course of our daily coverage of City Hall, we noted a large number of “closed press” events on the mayor’s schedule, so we decided to check it out since it is something this organization feels very strongly about.
CAPITAL: In a statement, de Blasio's office argued that it has shown transparency by providing a public schedule of his events and releasing transcripts (as well as by answering reporters' questions). What do you think is lost by not being able to physically be in attendance?
LEMIRE: Relying solely a government agency’s account of an event — whether that be a picture taken by an official photographer or a transcript — inherently only tells part of the story. They present only a sanitized version of events. It’s key for the media to also be there to act as the ears and eyes of the public.
CAPITAL: Also, do you see any merit in de Blasio spokesman Phil Walzak's contention that this is more about logistics than secrecy?
LEMIRE: There are moments, of course, when logistics do limit things. But the AP believes that those limits should be put in place only as a last resort.
CAPITAL: Do you think that the "press pool" system used by de Blasio and many other politicians, including President Obama, infringes on the media's ability to hold politicians accountable?
LEMIRE: Again, there are moments when a pool system is unavoidable, due to logistical or security concerns. Certainly, there are times when the White House is likely right in using a pool (and The AP does participate in pool coverage, whether it’s for the White House or City Hall). But the ideal would be to allow the full media. As several media watchdogs told me as I reported this story, the more eyes on a scene or event, the better.
CAPITAL: Do you expect to see immediate improvement from de Blasio's office, or do you think this is something that will happen more gradually?
LEMIRE: That remains to be seen. It was striking that on the day after the story ran, the mayor’s schedule listed two public events — and both were closed to the press. That said, the mayor has said several times that he believes in the importance of transparency (And, certainly, his administration is more transparent and forthcoming than quite a few other elected officials). De Blasio said yesterday that there was always room for improvement, so it’s possible that we’ll see some changes.