Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
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Missouri Digital News
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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL069.PRB - When Reporters Get Angry«MDNM»«FL»
Missouri's statehouse press corps is a pretty tame group. But there was one time when tempers flared among statehouse reporters that led to criminal charges.
The episode involved an altercation within within the press corps in 1971 involving an embargoed copy of a release from the state treasurer.
The release time benefited the St. Louis Post-Dispatch which was, at the time, an afternoon paper. The newspaper's morning-edition competitor, the now-defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat, could not publish the story until the following morning.
Some at the Democratic administration regularly set the release time for embargoed informmation to punish the Globe for its more Republican-leaning editorial pages.
But the Post lost its "exclusive" when a statehouse reporter for the Globe-Democrat got details of the story from other sources.
So when Post-Dispatch reporters opened the morning Globe that day, they discovered they lost their exclusive.
Post-Dispatch statehouse reporter Fred Lindicke was furious. And when he encountered Globe-Democrat reporter John Colt, a bystander reported Lindicke began pummeling Colt, knocking him down to the floor.
Ironically, Colt had not written the story. Instead, the bystander who was not the subject of the attack, was the reporter who had written the story -- Bob Boczkiewicz.
Boczkiewicz intervened trying to break up the confrontation. For his efforts, he suffered the only physical injury from the altercation. His glasses got broken, putting a glass shard into his eye and sending him to the hospital emergency room.
It led to misdemeanor criminal charges against Lindicke.
A few years later, only somewhat jokingly, state officials would cite that incident as to why we no longer routinely could get advance copies of the state's budget.
It wasn't to make it more difficult to find the budget secrets, we were told. Rather, it was because we reporters couldn't control ourselves, they would joke.
It was said in jest. And for a few years, budget directors quietly would give us copies if we personally came by to ask and promise to abide by the embargo.
We need advanced copies of those budgets. The governor's budget plan is hundreds of pages long. It takes hours of grueling review to identify the major spending changes being proposed.
But as the years went by, that access what shut off as future administrations tried to "spin" the budget as a political message.
Now, we get the budget just a couple of hours before the evening address by lawmakers to the legislature -- leaving little or no time for thoughtful review before stories have to be written.
The administration's restrictions on controlling budget information once was so severe that an armed police officer stood outside the budget briefing by the administration of Gov. Matt Blunt so political opponents would be less informed to offer immediate responses to the governor's proposals.
Meanwhile, we in the press corps have become better behaved. That 1971 incident was the last time there was any physical violence in the press corps.
I'd like to think it's because we're a more mature and responsible group. But I have to confess that elimination of competing newspapers in Missouri's two largest cities along with the general decline of interest in statehouse news also has made us less competitive and, maybe, not combative.
Concluding this column, I would be remiss if I did not thank Bob Boczkiewicz for reminding me of the details of the "not-a-fight" incident. Bob eventually became the Globe-Democrat's statehouse bureau chief. He now is a reporter in Denver and remains a dear friend.
Bob, by the way, insists he did not break the embargo -- that he got the information for his story from independent sources. I believe him.
Bob is one of the most principled journalists I've met. He also is the only Missouri statehouse reporter I know to have been injured on the job -- by one of his own colleagues.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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