Under the Dome

Writer for advocacy group barred from meeting

The office of Gov. Pat McCrory prevented a writer for a liberal advocacy group from attending a meeting Thursday of the N.C. Business Committee for Education, a nonprofit that is housed in the governor’s office.

It is the second time in recent weeks that the administration prevented a writer for N.C. Policy Watch from attending an event listed on the governor’s public schedule that was described as being for “credentialed” press only.

A spokesman for McCrory, Josh Ellis, said N.C. Policy Watch is not credentialed by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, the North Carolina Press Association, the Capitol Press Corps or members of a widely-recognized media cooperative such as the Associated Press.

The event, held at PNC Arena, was for the committee members and open to credentialed press. The meeting is not considered a public meeting under state law.

N.C. Policy Watch, which maintains a Web site, describes itself as having a “guiding objective” of bringing about “social, political and economic justice in North Carolina.”

“Since its founding in 2004,” the group says on its site, “NC Policy Watch has established itself as the state’s most prolific and influential progressive voice and a direct and effective counterpoint to the state’s conservative think tanks.”

Its director, Chris Fitzsimon, is a frequent critic of the McCrory administration.

Lindsay Wagner, who covers education issues for Policy Watch, wrote in an online post, which included audio of what happened, that she was escorted from the business committee meeting with little explanation just as it began at the PNC Arena. Arena security asked her to leave at the direction of the governor’s office.

Her removal was met with immediate criticism on Twitter from writers at conservative groups. After Wagner wrote on Twitter that she hopes McCrory “reconsiders blacklisting” Policy Watch reporters from events, the main account for the conservative John Locke Foundation wrote: “Agreed.”

A writer for a different startup group, Jones and Blount, was permitted to stay. But Ellis later said Thursday that was a mistake. Ellis said he believed the group had obtained credentials, but was mistaken.

Ellis said the governor’s office is relying on press organizations to determine who has press credentials.

“We’re going to let the press determine who should be identified as press,” Ellis said.

North Carolina government is covered by a range of outlets, including traditional media, such as newspapers and television stations, and also by writers working for nonprofits that advocate on issues.

In many cases, access has not been an issue. Writers from the advocacy groups, for example, attend news conferences at the legislature.