By Ramishah Maruf, CNN
The GOP Senate primary in Pennsylvania reveals a lot about the state of the Republican Party — and how it uses the media.
The seven candidates for the US Senate in the state have conducted at least 19 interviews across Fox and Newsmax so far this month, CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said on “Reliable Sources” Sunday. And Mehmet Oz, more popularly known as Dr. Oz, has Fox’s Sean Hannity serving as his “shadow campaign manager,” Stelter added.
But there is a divide among Fox hosts. Laura Ingraham has been promoting late surging candidate Kathy Barnette, who was recently caught on tape likening members of the GOP establishment who have been critical of her campaign to “swamp creatures.”
News of this soundbite only emerged because a reporter at a Saturday rally in Bucks County shared an audio recording from the event with CNN. Most members of the press were soon forced to leave the rally however, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday. CNN, CBS, NBC and other major news outlets were barred from attending what was billed as a public event for Barnette and Republican gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. Doug Mastriano.
“This was apparently at the direction of the leading GOP candidate for governor in the state,” Stelter said. “Doug Mastriano.”
Stelter noted journalists from a wide variety of outlets are apparently being denied access to GOP candidates. Selena Zito, a Washington Examiner reporter, was “blown off” after presenting Barnett with a list of simple biographical questions about her background, Stelter said.
Politico national politics reporter Holly Otterbein said that Mastriano livestreamed the rally on his Facebook page, suggesting that the decision to bar reporters had little to do with keeping the event private and was more likely intended to pick a fight with the press and “rile up the base.” But by doing that, candidates can also avoid questions from reporters — including on topics such as the fact that Mastriano was at the Capitol on January 6 and has been subpoenaed by the Congressional committee investigating the attack.
“Picking a fight with the national media is good for business in the GOP primary,” Otterbein said.
Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer national opinion columnist, said it was “shocking” to see reporters shut out of campaign events.
“It speaks to a real authoritarian turn in the Republican Party,” Bunch said. “[Mastriano’s] war on the press is essential to this strong man persona he’s trying to play. This is an anti-democratic candidate for governor.”
Bunch said the media can’t ignore the “extreme right turn” the Republican Party is taking. And the stakes are high. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board did not endorse anyone in the state’s GOP primaries this year, a major departure from prior campaigns, saying it’s impossible to do so because the candidates aren’t “operating in the same reality” as the board.
Mastriano has been one of the leading voices spreading Trump’s “Big Lie” about the 2020 election.
“This guy is three days away from winning the Republican nomination for governor of Pennsylvania, and people in Pennsylvania need to know where this guy stands,” Bunch said.
On the whole, Pennsylvania’s GOP candidates have spent relatively little on traditional TV advertising — instead taking their campaign messages to social platforms. It’s a strategy that underscores the growing influence of grassroots, right-wing media, Otterbein said.
“There are Facebook groups that are dedicated to them that are fan groups,” Otterbein said. “They’re kind of like volunteer armies, spreading the message of these candidates.”
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