What can journalists do when political campaigns hold rallies "open to the public" then ban all media?
That's exactly what CNN correspondent Kyung Lah and photojournalist Ronnie McCray Jr. did when the campaign of Republican state senator, Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial frontrunner and self-proclaimed Christian nationalist Doug Mastriano barred them from attending hus public rally.
As Lah wrote for CNN:
"In a sign of how siloed our information sources have become, midterm campaigns, many of them Republican, are widely shutting out local papers, local TV stations and national reporters."
"In Pennsylvania, we spoke with leading gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano’s campaign because we were planning to attend a rally in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The rally was advertised as free and open to the public, with registration."
"The campaign instructed us to register, saying there was no separate media registration, but upon our arrival, we were told no media would be allowed.”
So Lah and McCray booked a room with a balcony that overlooked the hotel poolside rally.
“The campaign sent two security guards who threatened to remove us from the room. But since the hotel allowed us to stay, we were within our right to observe a large event that everyone in the hotel could see.”
“This behavior is part and parcel to how the Mastriano campaign has excluded local reporters."
You can see the report McCray and Lah captured here:
Lah also shared the duo's experience on Twitter.
Complete with a balcony selfie, the CNN correspondent tweeted:
"Why am I, [with CNN photojournalist Ronnie McCray Jr], on this balcony?"
"This is [Doug Mastriano]'s rally in Uniontown, [Pennsylvania]."
"The campaign said we could attend, then said no press allowed."
"So... I rented this room with a balcony just so we could cover a leading contender for [Pennsylvania governor] with the primary 1 week away."
"Mastriano's campaign threatened to kick us out, saying they controlled all the space in the hotel."
"They were unhappy we stayed."
"Why do this?"
"[Because] independent press needs to see what your future government reps want to do."
Mastriano garnered national attention both through his push to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and protests he organized against public health protocols during the pandemic.
Mastriano adheres to Christian nationalism which is the notion God created the United States to be a Christian—preferably White—nation. As part of his beliefs, the Republican state senator supported legislation to require teaching the Bible in public schools and to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.
But Mastriano—who spent most of the COVID-19 lockdowns trying to get in front of cameras—is taking extraordinary measures to keep the press at bay. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mastriano's campaign printed photos of journalists in order to prevent their attendance at his events.
Knowing what he says during his "Bible-centric" campaign is of public concern.
Although some couldn't help but notice the size of Mastriano's rally crowd.
Prior to the pandemic, Mastriano wasn't well known even in Pennsylvania.
He spent most of his time posting Islamaphobic memes and conspiracy theories on social media. But his many demonstrations against any public health recommendations gained him notoriety.
He parlayed that into a following who he preached Christian White nationalism to until the 2020 election. Then he went all in on the Big Lie and the Stop The Steal campaign, telling his followers he'd spoken with President Donald Trump at least 15 times from the night of Trump's election loss until the January 6 Capitol riot.
Mastriano encouraged people to attend Trump's January 6 rally.
He told his followers:
“I’m really praying that God will pour His Spirit upon Washington, D.C., like we’ve never seen before."
How many of the religious zealots or White nationalists who stormed the Capitol were there at the behest of Mastriano is unclear, but 64 Pennsylvanians were arrested and 62 charged in connection with their actions during the riot.