Outrage in Waukesha

Editorial by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Donald Trump's outrageous presidential campaign was built on the brilliant use of free media — especially cable television, where the line between news and entertainment often blurs. But there has long been a dark underbelly to Trump's relationship with the independent working press. His disparagement of reporters is a set piece at rallies. He made fun of a disabled journalist. He called for change to libel laws because he doesn't like to be criticized.

Wednesday in Waukesha, that relationship hit a new low: His campaign used public servants — sheriff's deputies, no less — to harass a reporter for The Washington Post seeking to cover a rally for Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

The campaign denied entry to reporter Jose A. DelReal, who was then frisked by Waukesha County Sheriff's deputies, apparently at the behest of the campaign, to make sure he wasn't carrying a cellphone. DelReal is a citizen who can carry his cellphone wherever he pleases without the permission of government authorities. He caused no disturbance and violated no laws while attempting to enter a public event in a public building. There was a time when Republicans recognized and supported citizens' rights and opposed oppressive government. Those days apparently ended when Trump became the party's standard-bearer.

It was not an auspicious start for Pence, who was making his first solo campaign trip since being nominated to be vice president.

Trump has been upset with the Post's coverage for weeks, yanking the newspaper's credentials to cover the campaign last month after accusing the paper of "incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting." In fact, the Post published an accurate account of Trump's own rambling musings about whether President Barack Obama was complicit in a horrific mass shooting that killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub. The campaign has banned other news organizations, as well, including Politico, BuzzFeed News and the Des Moines Register.

Actually, what the Post has done is subject Trump to the same careful vetting that its reporters give any candidate for the nation's highest office. If Trump can't take the heat, he should exit electoral politics and return to his sycophants in the Trump Tower. As long as the press in America is free, it will never cease to treat presidential candidates as potential public servants seeking to work for the citizens of the United States. It is, in fact, an essential part of the process, as established by our nation's founders.

The Post's Executive Editor Martin Baron was justifiably livid: 

"First, press credentials for The Washington Post were revoked by Donald Trump," Baron said. "Now, law enforcement officers, in collusion with private security officials, subjected a reporter to bullying treatment that no ordinary citizen has to endure. All of this took place in a public facility no less. The harassment of an independent press isn't coming to an end. It's getting worse."

Indeed, it is getting much worse when law enforcement officers deem it is their job to ignore the rights of a private citizen and misuse their authority at the bidding of a political party or its candidates.

The Trump/Pence campaign is offering a clear signal of just how the vindictive real estate mogul would act if elected to the world's most powerful position. He would do what he's always tried to do: bully anyone he can't control.

DelReal first was shooed away from the press check-in table. When he tried to enter through a general admission line, which reporters typically have done at Trump rallies, he was stopped again and told he couldn't take his laptop or cellphone into the event. Although others could bring such tools inside, DelReal put them in his car and tried once more to enter. That's when security personnel summoned Waukesha County sheriff's deputies, who proceeded to frisk the reporter. DeReal identified them as Deputy John Lappley and Capt. Michelle Larsuel.

Waukesha County officials on Thursday stood by the deputies. "The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department deputies responded to a concern in a respectful way, according to standard, professional protocols," Waukesha County Deputy Inspector Torin Misko said in a statement. "This was a standard request from a client, and it was fulfilled in a professional way by two outstanding deputies."

But we can imagine no security concern that would compel them to search a reporter who showed proper identification, who was disobeying no laws and who was causing no harm. An independent investigation should be conducted into the matter by an outside legal authority that is not led by a member of Trump's political party.

It's not the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department's job to protect candidates for office from fair, honest and critical reporting.