Former New Hampshire House Speaker William O'Brien

Playing unfavorites with the press

William O'Brien is not one to brook much in the way of back talk. When a protest broke out in the House gallery during a budget hearing in the spring of 2011, he ordered state police to kick everyone out.

A year later, a fellow Republican legislator became so upset with what he saw as O'Brien's attempts to silence him that he directed a toxic remark at the Speaker: "Seig Heil." The legislator was ejected from the chamber and forced to apologize.

It was the Hitler reference that led to O'Brien's Muzzle. Because Mike Marland, a cartoonist for the Concord Monitor, followed up by depicting O'Brien with a Hitler-like mustache, accompanied by the caption "If the mustache fits ..."

O'Brien got his revenge. Last July, he scheduled a news conference to be held in his Statehouse office — and banned two Monitor journalists who tried to enter. An O'Brien spokeswoman explained: "When the Concord Monitor proves they have chosen to become a responsible media outlet, we'll be happy to invite them to future media events." (Tony Schinella of Concord Patch shot video of the journalists being held at bay, and of O'Brien responding noncommittally when asked about it.)

Trouble is, though public officials are under no obligation to give journalists special treatment by (for instance) granting interviews, under the First Amendment they must give them equal treatment when holding official events such as a news conference on public property.

O'Brien, no longer Speaker after voters returned Democrats to the majority in the last election, is now running for Congress.

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  Topics: News Features , Ed Davis, William O'Brien, Maine Department of Transportation,  More more >
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