News & Politics

Salem Media Sues Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for Banning Veteran Radio Host from COVID-19 Briefings

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a state Capitol news conference Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Springfield, Ill., as state Treasurer Michael Frerichs looks on. The Democratic Illinois state officials are offering $100 million in low-interest or interest-free loans to federal workers going without paychecks during a record 33-day government shutdown. (AP Photo/John O'Connor)

Veteran journalist Amy Jacobson filed a lawsuit on Monday, alleging that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker banned her from his COVID-19 briefings in retaliation after she broke the story that the governor’s family had violated his stay-at-home order to travel to their equestrian estate in Wisconsin. Salem Media, PJ Media’s parent company, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Jacobson, an award-winning journalist, has worked in television and radio across the country for more than 25 years. She has hosted the morning show on Salem Media’s Chicago station, AM 560 “The Answer,” for more than a decade.

Salem Media of Illinois, LLC v. Pritzker, filed on June 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that Pritzker violated Jacobson’s First Amendment rights and charges him with “[r]etaliating against a journalist and her news organization based on her editorial stances and tough questions, preventing her from speaking or asking questions in press conferences and gaggles.”

Liberty Justice Center (LJC), a public interest law firm that won the 2018 Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, is representing Jacobson and Salem Media.

The lawsuit claims, “After she consistently pushed for transparency and accountability from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker during his press conferences in recent weeks, particularly asking fair but strong questions about the First Family, he struck back by revoking her press credentials,” a move that is “blatantly unconstitutional.”

Pritzker defended the move by saying she has an “extreme position” on reopening Illinois and is therefore “not a reporter.” He cited the fact that she had spoken at a “Re-open Illinois” event opposing the governor’s COVID-19 policies. “She represents a talk show that has a particular point of view, we allowed her to ask questions because once upon a time she was a reporter, but she proved that she is no longer a reporter,” Pritzker told reporters. His press office sent Jacobson an email informing her she would no longer be welcome at the press briefings.

Jacobson explicitly and unequivocally condemned the Nazi signs referenced in the email.

The lawsuit points out that “Numerous other journalists who retain their press passes from the Governor’s office also provide opinion and commentary on public events, which shows that the revocation of Jacobson’s pass is either pretextual or content-based retaliation and viewpoint discrimination (or both).”

LJC explained in a press release that Jacobson had been attending Pritzker’s daily coronavirus briefings since April, and while some reporters “have used the daily briefings to ask softball questions, such as how the governor is holding up,” Jacobson “has asked notably tough questions.”

“Ultimately,” LJC said, “she was banned from attending the briefings and asking questions after holding the governor accountable.”

Jacobson’s attorneys provided a timeline of events leading up to Pritzker banning Jacobson from the briefings:

  • On May 14, she asked about the Governor’s furlough of over 1,000 prisoners during the pandemic, including 64 convicted murderers.
  • On Friday, May 15, Jacobson broke the story that Pritzker’s family had traveled to their equestrian estate in Wisconsin amid Illinois’ stay-at-home order — weeks after it was reported that his family was at another estate in Florida. The news raised questions about why the stay-at-home order did not apply to the governor’s family.
  • On Saturday, May 16, Jacobson was a speaker at a “Reopen Illinois” rally in Chicago. Like other journalists, Jacobson sometimes speaks at public events and on news/talk programs other than her own to share her reporting and editorial views. While at the rally, she gave remarks that repeated views she had given on her radio show many times before.
  • On Monday, May 18, 2020 — only three days after Jacobson broke the news that Governor Pritzker’s family was staying in Wisconsin and at the very next press conference — Jacobson attempted to participate in the Governor’s telephone press conference. Pritzker’s press secretary told Jacobson she was banned from the briefings because she had attended a rally advocating for Illinois to end its lockdown. When questioned by reporters about Jacobson’s exclusion the next day, Pritzker told the press corps that Jacobson could not attend because advocating for Illinois to end its stay-at-home order represents an “extreme position.”

“The reason we sent Amy to these press briefings is because she is a dogged reporter with a reputation for holding public officials accountable. Over the last two months Amy has done her job well, asking the tough questions that are on the minds of so many of our listeners,” said Jeff Reisman, regional vice president and general manager of AM 560 “The Answer.” “We’re disappointed that the governor would retaliate against her and take the unprecedented step of blocking her from his press briefings. We had hoped litigation would not be necessary, but it’s imperative for Amy to get back into the room and keep doing her job.”

The lawsuit is asking the court to declare that Pritzker violated Jacobson’s and Salem Media’s First Amendment rights and to “Enjoin Governor Pritzker from excluding Amy Jacobson from generally available information and press conferences.”

Jacobson told Townhall’s Guy Benson, “Everything I had said at that rally, I’d been saying on our station for just about six weeks. And now [the governor] is surprised all of a sudden that I have an opinion?” She explained that after reporting on the governor’s family’s out-of-state travel, “she was “never allowed to ask another question.”

“I think they’d been looking for an excuse to get rid of me,” she said.  “All I want is to get back in that press room. I’ve been asking questions in this town since 1996.”

Jacobson’s attorney echoed that suspicion.

“Gov. Pritzker has been in the hot seat over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s visible from his reactions to Amy Jacobson’s questions that her reporting made him uncomfortable. But what the governor appears to not understand is that Americans have a right to hold their elected officials accountable, and one of the ways they do this is through a vibrant, free press,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center.

“It’s not up to Gov. Pritzker to pick and choose which reporters can cover him based on how much he agrees with their coverage or their points of view. And keeping reporters out of the room because he disagrees with their line of questioning or point of view is a gross violation of the First Amendment,” he added.

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