Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is taking part in an event in our area today.
But you wouldn't know that.
You see, in announcing Johnson's events to media outlets such as the American News, Johnson's staff clearly marks all events:
**Media Advisory - for Planning Purposes, not for Publication **
That's a nice way of saying to us, "You can come, but don't tell anyone else ahead of time."
While we at the paper appreciate invitations and access, we aren't the only people Johnson serves.
We must insist that our public servants do some of their work in public. When was the last time Johnson has, in his home state, anyway?
His counterpart, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has been more visible, relatively speaking. Friday, Thune was in Aberdeen to discuss air service and the Farm Bill and visit the Brown County Fair. We published that schedule ahead of time.
The same day, Johnson's camp sent word of their hush-hush meetings, Thune sent his Wednesday agenda in Brandon: A town hall and luncheon were scheduled and available for publication.
It's understandable that not every event Johnson attends would be open to the public. Sometimes there are small tours or meals that can't accommodate unplanned guests. Sometimes there is sensitive material being discussed that must be done behind closed doors, and other times the meetings are for specific groups or discussion of precise topics.
But that's why we write lines in the paper such as, "This event is not open to the public." In almost every case we can think of, newspaper readers understand that this means, "we aren't invited." We've not heard of hundreds of people showing up to events that are clearly labeled as "not open to the public."
But even so, citizens own the sidewalks and streets. And citizens have the right to assemble. Might this be a way for a politician to avoid having to deal with all that messy democracy?
Frankly, Sen. Johnson's professional calendar itself is likely open to scrutiny by any one of us through a Freedom of Information request.
Today's event is nothing special. It's a simple tour and visit. Representatives attend similar events every day around the country. We'd be happy to tell you about it and maybe even cover it.
And word will get out, anyway: By our count 14 other people from the area (both elected officials and community leaders) are also attending these events, according to the news release. We imagine one or two of them might have mentioned the visit to a friend or family member. So this "media advisory" is full of holes anyway. This is information that wants to be known.
However, it is not the newspaper's job to be a publicist or a tool for our elected officials. In fact, our job is, in many instances, quite likely the opposite. We should be advocates for our communities, raising questions and bringing information to light.
Being micromanaged at this level - for something as simple as a local meet-and-greet - is counter to that mission. Using our own experience as a guide, it's likely no news will be shared at this event, no special access granted.
We guess it's heartening to see that Sen. Johnson, apparently, is still interested enough in the communities he serves to visit every so often.
However, we won't attend today's events. And, unfortunately, neither will you.