News: Quick Takes

N.C. GOP calls out Cooper over lack of transparency, absence of in-person briefings

N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley during a news conference Friday, July 31. (web screenshot)
N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley during a news conference Friday, July 31. (web screenshot)

Republicans are blasting Gov. Roy Cooper for a lack of transparency and demanding that he hold in-person press briefings. 

The N.C. Republican Party announced a public records request Friday, July 31, asking for Cooper’s schedule and travel plans. They criticized him for holding virtual press briefings instead of in-person, socially distanced meetings with opportunities for follow-up questions. 

The N.C. GOP has asked for any document concerning the governor’s schedule, travel plans, flight plans, and travel finance reports, as well as any communications about Cooper’s schedule between the governor’s office and the N.C. State Highway Patrol or the N.C. Department of Administration from Jan. 1, 2020 until the fulfillment of the request. 

“The governor clearly has a schedule, and he’s obviously trying to prevent North Carolinians from finding out what he’s been actually doing while he’s been holed up in the bunker over at the governor’s mansion,” said N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley.

As consensus about the lockdowns splintered, politicians’ approach to press briefings split down party lines. Republicans held in-person briefings and filed bills to reopen parts of the economy. Cooper vetoed those bills and continued to hold virtual meetings, citing health concerns over virus transmission. 

The N.C. Republican Party held its briefing in-person at its headquarters near downtown Raleigh. Whatley accused Cooper of being “missing in action.” 

Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen has briefed reporters multiple times each week since the pandemic began. Cooper has usually joined her at these briefings at least once a week.

To attend the briefings, reporters register online to ask a question, listing their name and media outlet. Someone screens the callers and decides who can ask a question. But the governor does not request information about reporters’ questions in advance. He has taken one question from Carolina Journal since the briefings began in March. Cohen regularly takes questions from CJ reporters

Nick Ochsner, WBTV’s chief investigative reporter, said Cooper stopped taking his questions after moving to virtual press briefings. He says he has only gotten to ask Cooper one question since the pandemic began, and he has stopped calling in to every briefing. 

“When will @NC_Governor start holding in-person press briefings?” Ochsner said in a tweet thread. “Meanwhile, I hear the same reporters get called on over and over at these briefings — in the same time I don’t get to ask one question. This is compounded by the Gov’s press office that gives no or limited responses when you email questions.”

In June, the North State Journal and WBT Radio’s Brett Jensen reported similar problems. Both Jensen and the NSJ said Cooper didn’t take their questions for two months. 

The national Radio Television Digital News Association retweeted Ochsner’s complaint.

“Protecting health and safety should not mean limiting press access, and virtual briefings should not be used as an excuse to screen questions or outlets,” RTDNA tweeted. “Please refer to our briefing guidelines, @NC_Governor.”

Cooper did not respond to requests for comment.