(The Center Square) – When one journalist attempted to join a media tour of a homeless shelter in South Downtown Seattle, he was barred from entry, which has raised concerns of government restriction of the press.
Jonathan Choe, a journalist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covers homelessness issues for the institute’s Fix Homelessness initiative. However, he was not deemed to have the credentials required to join media members Monday.
Choe has been covering the topic of Seattle’s Chinatown residents' dismay with the county’s $66.5 million plan to expand the 269-unit shelter that has been running since the summer of 2021. The plan will preserve the existing units and add 150 more, along with implementing a behavioral health shelter, a 24-hour sobering center and 40-50 tiny homes. There are already 10 similar shelters in the Chinatown-International District neighborhood.
Choe said residents of Chinatown came to him and asked him to cover the county’s plan.
“I knew this was a massive story. Especially because of the person behind it being [King County Executive Dow Constantine,]” Choe said to The Center Square in a phone call.
Choe said he has been covering Constantine’s other program to curb homelessness throughout King County, called “Health Through Housing.” Choe claims he is seeing the same public outcry from that program as the South Downtown homeless shelter.
What followed after his initial reporting were marches from Chinatown residents to Seattle City Hall and the King County Administration building with dozens of residents speaking against the expansion of the homeless shelter during council meetings.
When the county offered a media tour of the shelter on Monday, Choe was excluded from attending.
Choe recorded his confrontation with members of Constantine’s office. In the video, Constantine’s communications director Chase Gallagher told Choe he could not enter the media event because he worked for an advocacy group, not a media organization.
“The politicians have robust PR teams now and local media here in Seattle is clearly outgunned, because all of the media handlers are trying to dictate the terms,” Choe said. “Why do they get to define who is a journalist?”
After Choe posted the confrontation on Twitter, the video received over 60,000 views with some users questioning why King County determined Choe was not allowed in.
Brandi Kruse, a Seattle-based reporter who has worked for Q13 FOX in the recent past, said in a tweet that a couple years ago she had told organizers of a candidate forum that she would walk out of an event and refuse to moderate it if they prohibited a certain reporter from the Seattle Times from entering. She added that organizers thought the reporter had been unfair and did not want him there.
The Center Square reached out to Gallagher and Constantine’s Office. Gallagher declined to speak on the media tour Choe was denied entry to. He shared the county’s web page dedicated to the homeless shelter which says that King County, the City of Seattle, and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority are continuing to engage with nearby community members to inform next steps of the project.
“It does seem like the county finally started responding with outreach after the media pressure started mounting,” Choe said.