Giuliani not accessible to news media, panelists say

Thursday, November 9, 2000

NEW YORK — New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has not been as
accessible to the news media as former mayors, several speakers said at a panel
discussion here yesterday.

The panel, “The Mayor and the Media: A Second Look,” was the second
2000 Columbia Journalism School First Amendment Breakfast Series, co-sponsored
by the First Amendment Center.

Panelists included former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who said he enjoyed
the ongoing “battles” he had with the news media when he was in office.

“I was not afraid of the press,” Koch said. “I had no hesitation to
take on matters that I knew I would beat them on.”

He stressed that the relationship between a mayor and the press is an
important one. “I needed the press to get out my story,” he added. Koch said
that while mayor, he not only held daily news conferences, but he also provided
one-on-one press meetings and informal press talks.

In contrast, Giuliani’s administration has been one of the most
difficult to penetrate, said panelist Wayne Barrett, senior editor for
The Village Voice and author of the
recent Giuliani biography Rudy!

“For 12 years Koch never refused to answer questions, versus
Giuliani’s administration, which tries to deny access to the press,” Barrett

“Koch wanted to take on his harshest critics,” Barrett said, but
Giuliani “is hostile and dismissive.”

Coming to the current mayor’s defense was panelist Daniel Connolly,
special counsel for the city law department. “Giuliani holds daily press
conferences that are open,” Connolly said. He also noted that the mayor’s press
releases are available to anyone online on the city’s Web site.

But Barrett said he was denied press releases from 1994-1995 that were
not posted on the Web site, adding that the current administration made it as
difficult as possible for him to obtain information pertinent to his biography
of Giuliani.

Connolly said those press releases should have been available and that
he was not aware of any problems over press releases. “I don’t know why [they
weren't available],” he said. “[We] have no interest in secreting press

A major concern for panelist Eve Burton, vice president and chief
legal officer for CNN and former deputy general counsel for the
Daily News, was what she described
as Giuliani’s blatant disrespect for the First Amendment.

Burton said she believed Giuliani would have been a great supporter of
the classified-leaks bill that
President Clinton vetoed a few days ago. Critics said the bill, which would
have criminalized the leaking of government secrets, would have given the
government the power to not only silence, but also criminally punish,

“The mayor would have passed that law here,” Burton said.

Moderator Floyd Abrams, a veteran First Amendment attorney, said
Giuliani has a policy of going after newsgathering that he doesn’t like. Abrams
noted that the mayor has lost 28 out of 30 lawsuits he has brought against the

Connolly disagreed with Abrams’ numbers and said that tensions between
politicians and the news media stemmed from their different job objectives.

But veteran newsman and audience member Gabe Pressman of WNBC News
disagreed with Connolly, saying part of the problem was press access to

“[Former Mayor Robert] Wagner was an accessible mayor, Koch was
accessible three times a day,” Pressman said. “A mayor is not a pope …
every public official should be available.” He paused. “Giuliani is only
available Monday through Thursday; the source of our problems is City

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