FILE - Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

Wisconsin's attorney general says the governor doesn't have to answer questions from anyone other than "bona fide" journalists.

Attorney General Josh Kaul made that argument in his response to a lawsuit from the MacIver News Service, which is suing Gov. Tony Evers for being excluded from State Capitol press events.

MacIver, which operates as a news agency under the auspices of the free-market MacIver Institute, wants to be able to attend certain press briefings, namely the sneak peak of the state budget, but Kaul said Evers' administration can exclude groups if he doesn't consider them real news organizations.

Kaul's response says those opportunities are "open to only a select group of invited journalists who meet the criteria for bona fide press organizations."

Kaul does not define what makes a group a bone fide press organization, nor does his filing list who is or is not on that list. Kaul's office also did not respond to questions about what makes a journalism organization bona fide, or comment on other possible conflicts of interest for other statehouse media outlets.

MacIver has said liberal-leaning groups have been invited to cover the governor's press briefings.

MacIver President Brett Healy said the governor's self-selection of who gets to write about his office is a First Amendment threat.

"All MacIver wants to do is ask the Governor straight-forward questions about his policies and the actions of his administration," Healy said Monday. "MacIver cannot do our job on behalf of the Wisconsin taxpayer if we are prevented from attending the Governor's press briefings and other public events."

Kaul's filing before the court offers a pithy response to that idea.

"MacIver does not argue that its journalists will be unable to report on news relating to Governor Evers absent an injunction. It simply argues that it will have to work harder to gather news and break stories relating to Gov. Evers," Kaul wrote.

Healy said it's not about working harder, it's about the simple job of making sure that people know what their government is doing.

"I'm not sure why Governor Evers would be afraid to answer simple questions from the local media," Healy added.

It's unknown when the judge assigned the case will rule on Kaul's request to dismiss MacIver's lawsuit, or when there may be another hearing.

Staff Writer

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.