The Beto O’Rourke campaign is not apologizing for Tuesday’s removal of a Breitbart staffer from a campaign event in South Carolina.
The campaign said in a statement on Wednesday that Breitbart “walks the line between being news and a perpetrator of hate speech.”
At the same time, when asked by CNN, the campaign said access will not be restricted in the future.
Breitbart allies like Donald Trump Jr. have decried the treatment of Joel Pollak, a writer and radio host for the website.
Numerous members of the news media, including some that object to Breitbart’s far-right political advocacy, have also criticized the O’Rourke campaign.
“No matter what you think of Breitbart, this is wrong,” New York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg wrote on Twitter. “No campaign should be deciding who gets to cover its events. An event is either open to the press, or it is not. Freedom of the press is not a conditional right — it applies to every American regardless of their views.”
Press access has been politicized in an era in which the president and his allies routinely exclude reporters from certain events and suspends access to the White House. Most recently, the White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham suspended the hard pass of Playboy columnist Brian Karem over a confrontation at the Rose Garden.
Breitbart is a far-right website with has a history of publishing misleading stories about Democrats and Trump’s critics. The site also has close ties to the Trump administration, and many of its writers have gone on to work in the White House.
During the 2016 campaign, its chairman, Stephen Bannon, went to work for the Trump campaign as CEO. Later, Bannon worked as Trump’s chief political strategist in the White House, before departing in 2017. Bannon then returned to Breitbart, referring to it as a “f***ing machine” that he would use to “crush the opposition.” In early 2018, Bannon left Breitbart after making comments critical of Donald Trump Jr.
Pollak, who also serves as Breitbart’s senior editor at large, famously confronted Joe Biden recently on the campaign trial, accusing the Democratic candidate of misquoting Trump’s statement on the neo-Nazis.
Pollak had a press credential to attend an O’Rourke event on Tuesday afternoon at Benedict College, a historically black college.
“Several minutes after the 3:00 p.m. event had been scheduled to begin, a staff member in a Beto O’Rourke t-shirt approached this reporter and asked what outlet I represented,” Pollak wrote in a post published Tuesday that described the incident from his perspective.
A few minutes later, a campus police officer approached him and brought him outside.
CNN’s Caroline Kenny witnessed part of the incident. “About 10 minutes before the event started, a police officer walked in with an advance staffer and they asked him to come with them. He never came back in the room,” she said.