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Rantz: AG Bob Ferguson pushes media outlets for docs in suit involving ICE

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The office of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is trying to use private materials procured by local media outlets in a political fight against the GEO Group and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This move is exploitative and can have a chilling effect on a free press, even though that’s not the intent.

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Ferguson is suing the private operator of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma for wage theft, arguing the illegal immigrants in detention are due the state minimum wage for any work they do while in custody.

In order to help with their case, Ferguson is trying to use material privately collected by media outlets during a recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tour of the facilities. A number of local outlets went on the tour to get a better understanding of detainee treatment, including the news arms of KIRO Radio and MyNorthwest.

Alma Poletti, an Investigator Supervisor within the Civil Rights Division in Ferguson’s office, wrote a letter requesting all outlets on the tour voluntarily turn over raw videos and any photos from the tour.

The tone was undeniably friendly and ICE has no objection to the request (indeed, they alerted the AG to the tour and are fine with the content being turned over).

But, that doesn’t matter.

I believe it’s inappropriate to use the media to participate in a legal challenge driven by an Attorney General who routinely takes positions for personal political gain. Similarly, ICE made similar requests to turn over material and, to my knowledge, no media outlet provided any materials either.

News outlets can’t be wholly impartial in their coverage of this lawsuit if they participate in turning over material to either side.

Ferguson, through his office, took a moment away from his Trump lawsuits to provide a snarky statement to The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. I asked if he personally approved the letter and if there are any concerns that requests like this could have a chilling effect on press rights. Ferguson wasn’t happy with the question.

Did I personally approve the letter? No. But I have since carefully reviewed my investigator’s letter ‘kindly request[ing]’ footage and videos that may be pertinent to an important case. Jason, you’ve asked if this ‘could have a chilling effect on press rights.’ To be blunt, no. I’m sorry your backbone was so easily ‘chilled’.

Oh he sure told me, didn’t he?

My backbone isn’t easily chilled, even by politicians who transparently use their office to grow their political brand. As he knows, I didn’t get a request from his office so it doesn’t directly impact me.

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But it’s reasonable to ask any elected office what policy they have when making requests of media — kindly or otherwise — to ensure that outlets don’t feel compelled to comply. I asked if such a policy existed and his office stated “this situation was unique” but didn’t answer my question.

There is a very clear lopsided power dynamic, particularly with an attorney general who is perceived to use his power to go after his political enemies. News outlets try to maintain a working relationship with offices like his so they can do their jobs and report the news. When you choose not to comply with someone in a position of power over you, especially if you’re a small news outlet, there will be some considerations. Ferguson should understand this, not scoff at it.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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