It is probably fair to say this has been a difficult time for journalists trying to cover the coronavirus across the country as well as in the other parts of the world where there is a reasonably free press. Obviously, we are excluding many countries where the virus has spread and there are few press freedoms, such as China, Iran, Nicaragua and North Korea. That is also where, not coincidentally, we have grounds to suspect the governments have lied about the disease’s spread.
In most of the West, in the U.S. and in Colorado, using those press freedoms has still entailed a dance, as most anyone can tell from watching one of President Trump’s recent press conferences. The real work of reporting does not get done by being seen to try to grill the president or having him tell you to sit down and shut up, however. It means pressing harried state and local officials for detailed information when people may be least inclined to cooperate and when getting good information to the people is crucial.
We have seen governors rise to this occasion in many states. And we have no complaints about the job Gov. Jared Polis has done since the Colorado Legislature got out of Denver. We do not feel qualified to judge yet whether he has acted too quickly or too slowly, but we were alarmed to read last week that the Polis administration is charging the news media $1,290 for records that would inform the public on the emergency response to COVID-19, according to Colorado Politics.
And now the Polis administration wants an additional $480 to make available records “detailing Polis’ plans for providing additional ventilators to hospitals and how to conduct mass testing for COVID-19 virus infection.”
This is the most critical information, being held hostage for money the Polis administration has little right to seek or collect, especially now.
This is, to use the polite French term for it, rubbish.
Colorado Politics and its sister newspaper, The Gazette, in Colorado Springs, also sought meeting minutes of Polis’ Innovation Response Team, a group of tech entrepreneurs he assembled to advise him in the crisis, and after 10 days had no response.
It comes weeks after the Colorado Freedom of information Coalition sent a letter to Polis, signed by heads of more than 60 journalism organizations in the state, asking him to urge state and local officials to expedite requests for information about the pandemic and to waive or reduce fees.
“As much meaningful information as possible should be released to the public and in a way that is easy for the journalists and the public to obtain,” said the coalition’s executive director, Jeff Roberts. “There should not be cumbersome open records requests and high fees.”
Instead, Polis should be looking for ways to work with state news media to achieve one overlapping objective, building confidence in the state’s response through transparency.
The state has been releasing some information at the request of news organizations, and that contributes immeasurably to how well the public is informed. Yet if the current fees and delays continue, Colorado Politics writes, “the public may not have vital information about the virus and how to avoid infections, and how the state government is responding to it.”
We cannot believe that Polis, our libertarian-friendly Democratic governor, wants to throw a wrench in a free press during a crisis. We have got to assume this has been an oversight, the result of unseemly exuberance by an underling who will soon be straightened out or banished to Yuma. We are sure Polis will make this right.
We are waiting.