The office of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker asked the editor of a west-central Illinois newspaper in February to unpublish a news story by The Center Square about the governor's plans to cut spending if voters don't pass a progressive income tax in November.
In an email to the editor of The Jacksonville Journal-Courier, a spokeswoman for the governor said the article was "flawed" and lacked context.
"This 'article' is filled with mischaracterizations and devoid of any context in which the Governor talked about the budget challenges the state faces and how, as he said and is not reported, the state will have to manage through them," spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh wrote in the Feb. 10 email. "Ultimately, it would be prudent to take down this partisan content masquerading as news."
A nearly 2-minute video that accompanies the same story on The Center Square's website shows Pritzker saying what he is quoted as saying in the story. The governor's office did not alert The Center Square to any errors in the Feb. 7 article, headlined "If voters reject progressive income tax, Pritzker promises to cut state spending," and no corrections were published.
"We have a clear corrections policy. The Center Square story in question is accurate – both factually and contextually – and the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, which refused to comply with this outrageous request, agrees with us," Chris Krug – publisher of The Center Square, the national nonprofit, nonpartisan newswire – said Monday. "It's shameful that Gov. Pritzker and his office would attempt to bully a news media outlet into unpublishing a factual news story – for any reason."
David Bauer, editor and publisher of the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, has been out of the office and unavailable for comment.
The Center Square obtained the email through a request under the state's open records laws. At least three other news outlets also published The Center Square story.
In the email to the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Abudayyeh called The Center Square's reporting partisan and included a link to a Columbia Journalism Review article that does not mention the nonprofit news organization.
"The governor's office attempted to mislead an Illinois news outlet by linking to a story that is not about The Center Square," Krug said. "Media has a responsibility to accurately report the news. This is a blatant attempt to censor the news. The governor has no business policing media for stories with which he disagrees. He owes our team an apology."
Abudayyeh, who previously worked as a reporter for WICS TV in Springfield, did not respond to a request for comment about her email to the Jacksonville newspaper.
Pritzker has made changing the state's constitution to allow for a progressive income tax the cornerstone of his first term in office. His $42 billion fiscal 2021 budget proposal includes $1.4 billion in new revenue from a proposed progressive income tax that voters won't decide on until November.
The Center Square covers state government and statewide issues in Illinois and 24 other states with a focus on government taxing, spending and regulatory issues. It allows other news media outlets to republish its stories.
Sam Fisher, president and CEO of the Illinois Press Association, whose organization operates the Illinois First Amendment Center, declined to comment.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the governor's office did nothing illegal but said it smacked of "intimidation."
"The governor's office is probably within its right to make this request but it does smack of intimidation for the governor's office to presume to tell a news outlet what it should and should not publish," Lueders, who also is editor of Progressive magazine, said. "But the ultimate decision is with the news outlet. I think journalists often get blowback from politicians and they need to defend their rights to publish what they want to publish. I'm glad that the newspaper, in this case, didn't give in to it."
Pritzker's office's attempt to kill a news story is not the first time staff of a sitting U.S. governor has attempted to have a Center Square story unpublished.
In September, the office of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis asked editors of two Colorado newspapers to unpublish a news story by The Center Square that raised the question of the cost of a new office Polis created and included a comment from a Senate GOP spokesperson criticizing the fact it was the third new office created this year. Both Colorado newspapers also refused to comply with the request.