Magazine article The Quill

How Mike Pence Went from First Amendment Advocate to Antagonist

Magazine article The Quill

How Mike Pence Went from First Amendment Advocate to Antagonist

Article excerpt

Mike Pence had come to protect the Fourth Estate.

In February 2005, five months before New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to disclose a source to a federal grand jury, Pence, an Indiana Republican in the House of Representatives, and Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, introduced the Free Flow of Information Act, a federal shield bill that would have afforded reporters some protection from revealing sources.

At a news conference called on Capitol Hill, Pence delivered the opening remarks. "I would humbly offer that if we give people the knowledge, the republic will be saved," he said. "The media is the only entity in America that has complete freedom to hold government accountable."

The proposed bill, Pence told reporters, would "pound some rivets around the First Amendment." The bill passed twice in the House but was scuttled in the Senate. Still, Pence's unexpected advocacy earned him praise from the press. A Columbia Journalism Review profile of Pence in 2007 carried the headline, "The Shield Bearer: How a conservative congressman from Indiana became journalism's best ally in the fight to protect anonymous sources."

Another Columbia Journalism Review feature written in 2016, four months after Donald Trump picked Pence as his running mate, painted Pence as having grown far less transparent and forthcoming with press. It's hard to imagine he'd still be described as an ally to journalists today. Now, Pence, the man who once co-sponsored a failed yet important piece of journalism legislation, is a key figure in one of the most restrictive administrations in American history.

"This is a great irony of the situation Pence finds himself in," said Andrea Neal, whose biography of the vice president, "Pence: The Path to Power," was released Aug. 1. "He went from being seen as a champion of the First Amendment to now being an accomplice of Donald Trump in these almost-daily attacks on the news media.

"I don't think that's where Pence's heart is, but he's playing along."

'ONE OF MY GREAT INSPIRATIONS'

Pence's affinity for the First Amendment can be traced back to his childhood in Columbus, Indiana. His boyhood best friend, Jeffrey Brown, was the son of Robert N. Brown, the owner of the local newspaper, The Republic, and several other newspapers in the region. "[Pence] would have had a very early appreciation for the role of the press in the local community," Neal said.

Pence and Jeffrey Brown remained close. They were groomsmen in each other's weddings, and Pence later officiated at the funeral of Robert Brown. While speaking to the House Judiciary Committee about the shield bill in 2007, Pence pointed out Jeffrey Brown in the audience. Brown's father, he said, "had an enormous impact on my life and continues to be a lodestar to me of what it is to have integrity in journalism. Very much his example inspired my work on this."

(Pence, via his press secretary, didn't respond to requests for comment for this story.)

Pence's political stances regarding press rights also may have been informed by his time as a radio commentator, a foray that began in 1988 following the first of two failed congressional campaigns. Pence, who has described his style as "Rush Limbaugh on decaf" expanded his reach in 1994 when Network Indiana hired him to fill its weekday 9 a.m. to noon slot.

Scott Uecker, the former programming director at Network Indiana, said Pence was strong on his values but "very likable" He didn't play devil's advocate to get a rise out of listeners.

The "Mike Pence Show" helped revive his political career, boosting his name recognition prior to his third congressional campaign. Pence, who had lost to incumbent Phil Sharp by 6 points in 1988 and 18 points in 1990, took 50.9 percent of the vote in Indiana's 2nd Congressional District in 2000 and received at least 60 percent in each of the next five congressional elections.

"A lot of people have blamed us for making him the governor of Indiana," Uecker said. …

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