A joke by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Friday, May 26, was not well received as the Republican quipped about shooting reporters.
According to the Texas Tribune, Abbott just signed a bill Friday to reduce gun ownership fees and was at a shooting range when he fire rounds into a target.
While he did not directly say he would shoot anyone, he pointed to the bullet holes and remarked, "I'm gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters," the paper reported.
Regarding the bill, Abbott said Senate Bill 16 aims to make it easier for Texans to obtain licenses to carry guns. It reduces the first-time fee for a permit from $140 to $40 and the renewal cost from $70 to $40. New fees take effect on Sept. 1.
"Texans' ability to bear arms is going to be even bolder today than it's ever been before," he said.
Abbott has not been shy about his dislike for mainstream media. Republican commentator Glenn Beck called him a "boss" of social media after Abbott streamed his signing of Texas' sanctuary cities bill on Facebook Live.
Abbott was the main attraction during the event, using the opportunity to revel in the absence of reporters. And it's not just Abbott who dislikes journalists. In the Texas Senate, the majority of reporters have been relegated to the gallery; one-on-one interviews with lawmakers are difficult to get as written requests are at times required. The process has caused reporters to miss deadlines and stories altogether.
According to Texas Monthly, the system was hatched during a closed-door Senate caucus, something that would have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act at the municipal level. State governments, however, are exempt from open meetings laws. But such moves have not come without opposition. Reporters have turned to the courts to have their press access restored.
When Bill Kovach was a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, he refused to leave the room when a group of state senators wanted to meet without media present. The legislators then attempted to bar reporters from chambers by blocking doorways. Federal courts later prohibited further sanctions and restored all press access.
"(Barring journalists) represents an unreasonable prior restraint upon plaintiff's freedom of the press and freedom of speech and is itself unconstitutional and void under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution," Chief Judge William E. Miller wrote. "...Denial of such an opportunity…would place a serious handicap and burden upon any newspaper which could not be materially alleviated by access to the Senate gallery."
Abbott's contention with media aside, reporters have had a spotty relationship with government for centuries, making even President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's cries to stop"fake news" ones anything but new. Even during the Civil War, reporters were branded liars by Union and Confederate officials.
In Texas, however, Abbott's chagrin for reporters is not something his predecessors typically displayed. Ex-Texas Govs. Mark White, Ann Richards, and George W. Bush all met regularly with reporters and welcomed media at events. With Greg Abbott, his closed-door communication with journalists has most reporters obtaining comment via email, largely through requests filtered by his press secretary.
Abbott's comments about shooting reporters also bring to light assault charges brought against U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, on May 24. In that incident, Gianforte allegedly body slammed Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, and broke the journalist's glasses. Gianforte denies the allegations, saying he was grabbed by Jacobs.
Witnesses, including Alicia Acuna of Fox News, say the lawmaker was not grabbed by the reporter and that Gianforte was the aggressor. Jacobs underwent x-rays following the incident and was not seriously injured. Gianforte was charged with a misdemeanor.
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