A conservative journalist has sued Gov. Tim Walz’s administration after he was barred from participating in the governor’s daily press briefings on the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the lawsuit, Scott Johnson, an attorney and writer for PowerLine, was allowed to participate in the daily briefings until April 27, when he was suddenly “excluded from all future daily briefings without explanation.”
The lawsuit was filed against Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
“On April 27, Mr. Johnson asked a question that possibly exposed problems with the MDH’s strategy for combating the COVID-19 outbreak. MDH emails show that this question was ‘flagged’ for further discussion between MDH staff and the Governor’s staff. Mr. Johnson was thereafter excluded from all future daily briefings without explanation,” states the lawsuit.
Officials with the MDH have refused to tell Johnson why he was excluded from the press briefings. In fact, they have ignored four emails and three phone calls seeking an explanation, the lawsuit reveals.
“The MDH’s decision to exclude Mr. Johnson was a form of content and viewpoint-based discrimination that infringes upon his First Amendment rights as an individual and as a member of the press,” the complaint alleges.
The closest thing to an explanation for Johnson’s exclusion was provided to Washington Free Beacon reporter Collin Anderson, who was told that access to the briefings is limited “only to professional journalists.”
“The alleged lack of credentials or professional journalist status as a basis for excluding Mr. Johnson from the MDH conference line is plainly pretext and cannot be squared with the facts or MDH’s own conduct between April 10 and April 27, 2020 with respect to Mr. Johnson’s access,” the lawsuit states in response.
Johnson also pointed out in a recent post on PowerLine that he has “been accredited as a reporter by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota,” where his case is pending.
Additionally, Anderson was told that the daily briefings are “coordinated by the governor’s communications office” rather than the MDH on the days when Walz participates.
“The events typically attract about 50 reporters, but when the governor joins them – as he often does -access to the briefings becomes more restricted. Health officials told Johnson that on those days the governor’s office controls attendance and instructed him to contact Walz’s office for access, according to correspondence reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon,” Anderson said.
The lawsuit states that the decision to exclude Johnson “has significantly hampered his ability to cover the MDH daily briefings, including preventing him from asking questions and receiving answers live, and from receiving written responses to his questions following the daily briefing.”
The complaint seeks the immediate restoration of his access to the press briefings, a declaration that his exclusion was “unconstitutional,” and damages in excess of $50,000.
“I draw the following inferences. My exclusion from the MDH briefings comes after consultation with Gov. Walz’s office. They didn’t like the question(s) I was asking,” Johnson wrote in another post about his case. “They knew not to put the reason for my exclusion in writing and have withheld it from me because it is unflattering to Gov. Walz. It would not make him look good.”
The full lawsuit can be viewed below:
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