OLYMPIA – Despite Rep. Matt Shea’s criticism of the news media, his role on a special task force studying the possible release of legislative public records will be to push for more openness, the top House Republican said Monday.
“His job is to reflect the caucus, not just his own views,” House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said. Wilcox added he doesn’t share Shea’s experiences or views on the press, which included comments in a speech last weekend at a gun rights rally.
There the Spokane Valley Republican accused members of the news media – including some at the event – of trying to smear people by putting “innuendo and implications into their articles and editorials.
“We can’t become like those dirty, godless, hateful people,” he told the crowd. “We have to uphold free speech no matter what. The antidote to that slander is always truth.”
Over the weekend, Wilcox authored a post on his Facebook in which he said though he’s frustrated with the national press and skeptical of nearly all national coverage, he’s had “almost uniformly good experience with the press in Washington.”
The Facebook post wasn’t a reaction to Shea’s comments at the rally, Wilcox said in an interview Monday, but to the departure of one of the few full-time reporters at the state Capitol. Walker Orenstein, the state reporter for the Olympian and the Tacoma News Tribune, left Friday for a job in Minnesota. That reduced the number of full-time reporters at the Capitol to five.
“I’ve found the news coverage to be remarkably accurate on the facts,” Wilcox wrote. “Of course, they are often wrong on speculation. When I speculate, I’m often wrong too. I also know that sometimes minor trivia gets covered when there is plenty of real news that goes uncovered.”
Two weeks ago, Shea refused to answer a question from a Spokesman-Review reporter during an anti-abortion rally unless she would first answer his questions. While he was being filmed for a Facebook posting, he asked why the newspaper incorrectly reported that he backed a different candidate than Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Congress, and didn’t issue a correction after he asked for one.
The newspaper reported in March that one of McMorris Rodgers’ challengers praised Shea’s stances on issues and was seeking the legislator’s endorsement, and that Shea did not return a call for comment. In May, a letter writer from Colville said Shea was endorsing that candidate, Jered Bonneau. No one at the newspaper recalls Shea calling and asking for a correction on the letter. On Aug. 5, the Sunday before the primary and a week before he confronted the reporter at the anti-abortion rally, the newspaper’s front-page report on the congressional race, and a secondary headline that went with it, said Shea was backing McMorris Rodgers.
He also asked the reporter at the anti-abortion rally about the coverage of the Hammond and Bundy families, who have challenged federal restrictions and control over public lands in Oregon and Nevada.
“The Spokesman-Review has really tried to make that a hateful thing. The Hammonds have been pardoned. The Bundys have been acquitted in two trials by a jury of their peers. Do you have an answer for that?” he asked the reporter.
Coverage of the Hammonds, who were pardoned by President Trump, and the Bundys comes primarily from wire services. The reporter, who didn’t write any of those stories and wasn’t working at the paper when most of them were published, said she couldn’t answer but that she was there to ask him about the rally.
Instead, Shea turned to the camera and talked about respecting the value of life, the need to be loving people providing centers for pregnancies in crisis and how with a few letter changes “abortion” could be changed to “adoption.”
When the reporter asked him again if he could answer a couple of questions, Shea replied: “You didn’t answer mine so I’m not answering yours.”
Shea regularly refuses to answer questions from The Spokesman-Review, except through the caucus communications staff.
“That’s not the way I conduct my relationships with the media,” Wilcox said, adding he and Shea talked over the weekend.
“We both agreed we’re responding to the experiences we’ve had,” Wilcox said.
In his role on the Legislative Public Records task force, Shea won’t be speaking for himself but for the caucus and its position on the public’s right to know, Wilcox said. Their opening position is legislation written by another Republican legislator that calls for legislative records to be “made available substantially to the same extent as records of other elected public officials.”
As an attorney and the caucus’s chairman, Shea “is experienced in representing not just his own opinion but the opinions of others,” Wilcox said.