In the spirit of recordkeeping and looking back on the year that's about to close, SFR presents this report on some of our recent unheralded efforts for our readers.
A district court judge ruled this month that elected officials such as New Mexico's governor can pick which media outlets they consider "favored reporters." But anyone who's read SFR in the last year is aware that she's not the only policymaker who chooses to bestow interviews only on favored newsrooms and outright ignore requests from those who might look with a more critical eye.
Gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce takes the unofficial prize for most epic weaponization of this strategy.
Between Aug. 30 and Dec. 18, we asked 13 times for an interview. The first time, we contacted Pearce's congressional office, where an employee on the federal payroll ignored us for a week before passing us on to Pearce's privately funded media campaign representative. Greg Blair first asked for questions in writing because he said Pearce's schedule was too packed.
We declined, offering to plan for an in-person or telephone interview when he could find time.
Blair responded between requests number five and six with a promising message noting that he would run the request "up the flagpole." He asked for an outline of what topics we wanted to cover.
We wrote back to say, "We'd like to talk about his vision for the governor's office and his intentions for meeting voters in Santa Fe and appealing to them."
Since then: crickets.
Up next on the list are cabinet officials from the New Mexico Public Education Department.
When SFR interviewed former Education Secretary Hanna Skandera for our Feb. 1, 2017 cover story, "Drowning in Data," we had a courteous, half-hour conversation on the value of gathering educational data and how to use what's being measured. Our story was better for it.
That rapport didn't last long.
A month later, reporter Matt Grubs transitioned from exposing a systemic problem with data to questioning why the department hadn't implemented Next Generation Science Standards despite years of recommendations by Skandera's hand-picked panel of experts (Cover, March 29: "Sanitized Science"). The department's spokeswoman, Amy Hasenberg, said she couldn't schedule an interview for us over the course of three days, then ignored further requests for an interview with Skandera or any other PED official.
It's gotten worse with Skandera's replacement, Chris Ruszkowski, and spokeswoman Lida Alikhani. On a variety of issues, Ruszkowski has refused ten times to be interviewed by SFR. Presumably. A typical Alikhani response is silence. As other news outlets caught up to the science standards story this fall, Ruszkowski made the rounds with them and touted his willingness to talk and have "thought partners" in the debate. When he capitulated to overwhelming opposition to his proposed new standards, he did so quietly.
Maybe we shouldn't be too offended: Ruszkowski didn't show up to hear the hundreds of students, teachers, scientists and parents who testified against his standards. And he's been hiding from the bipartisan Legislative Education Study Committee, too.
And lastly, the cat has the tongue of the state Medical Cannabis Program.
The first email our reporter Aaron Cantú has on file from Department of Health spokesman Paul Rhien is an automated message from May noting that he was away from his desk. It was a harbinger for an often-frustrating line of communication. In July, Cantú unsuccessfully asked Rhien for an interview with Medical Cannabis Program director Kenny Vigil four times, and didn't get to talk to him until August. Since then, we've requested to speak with Vigil on two occasions, with no luck.
The program seems to have an unofficial policy of not talking to the press. Rhien has repeatedly asked Cantú not to contact members of the MCP and to instead email questions to him—a request we won't honor.
The last email we sent to Rhien asked: "Can you please tell me why nobody at the medical cannabis program, all of whom are government employees with salaries paid by taxpayers, wanted to be interviewed for this article?"
We never got a response.