January 28, 2015
Indiana governor Mike Pence gives a whole new meaning to “state-run news agency”
by Mark Krotov
Earlier this week, the Indianapolis Star reported that Indiana governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence was starting a taxpayer-funded, state-run news outlet called Just IN.
This was weird.
Why weird? Not because it’s hard to understand why a governor would want to control the flow of information about his policies. (It isn’t.) And not because politicians tend to be fierce defenders of free speech. (They aren’t.) No, it was weird because Americans, who don’t usually agree about anything, tend to agree that the words “state-run news outlet” are at least a bit suspect.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be the case! After all, the BBC, despite its flaws, is a hell of an operation—we’re fans of any broadcaster that lets David Graeber create a radio show—and even respected networks like Al Jazeera often have close ties to governments. But even so, Americans like their news organizations free of government influence, even if, in practice, that influence has a way of making itself felt.
So yes, Pence’s turn toward state-run news seems rather unusual. Especially because Just IN doesn’t seem to be obscuring its political purpose. The Star’s Tom LoBianco obtained internal documents pertaining to the launch of Just IN, and he quotes one in his report:
We expect reporters to find the site useful, and some features are designed specifically for media professionals. Just IN, however, will function as a news outlet in its own right for thousands of Hoosiers—transparent in functioning as a voice of the State of Indiana’s executive branch.
That doesn’t seem too comforting.
But maybe my skepticism about this enterprise is unfounded. After all, I’m not from Indiana, so who am I to judge? With that in mind, let’s turn to the Star’s Matthew Tully, who provides us with some much-needed cultural context:
A state-run news agency? What in the name of Vladimir Putin is the Pence administration thinking? His administration is calling it “Just IN.” But, I’m sorry, that’s the last time you’ll ever hear me call it that. This is a propaganda outlet, plain and simple. This is a politician, one who already has an army of press secretaries, trying to seize more control of what you read about the things he says and does.
That ain’t America, folks.
Well, wait—that’s just one person. What about Tully’s colleague, Tim Swarens?
It’s a bad idea, governor. A really bad idea. And one of the things about bad ideas is that they seldom get better with time. So the smart play at this point is to drop your plans for a state-run news service, which in its infancy already has been buried with intense and warranted criticism . . . So, governor, do the right thing and pull the plug on this horrible, terrible, really no-good idea. And do it now.
Indeed, response to Pence’s announcement has been broadly negative, though it has also been hilarious. It didn’t take long for a parody Twitter account to emerge:
Good morning, Hoosiers! #JustIN reports it snowed 20 inches here last night, but INDOT crews have amazingly cleared all roads (and grass).
— JustIN News (@Just_IN_News) January 27, 2015
Sent myself a FOIA request for costs associated with #JustIN. Replied to myself saying we’re reviewing the request. (We’re going to deny it) — JustIN News (@Just_IN_News) January 27, 2015
And then there was this deeply disturbing image, which I can now never unsee:
Things I wish I could take credit for making. #JustIN #ingov pic.twitter.com/WazrfOgjxn — Jennifer Wagner (@JenniferAWagner) January 27, 2015
Because media-related news tends to travel quickly, the story of JustIN—or, as the Atlantic called it, “Pravda on the Plains”—got picked up by everyone from Politico’s Dylan Byers to, well, us. In response to the hubbub, Pence began to backtrack. He tweeted the following on Monday afternoon:
This is State of IN’s calendar for press releases: http://t.co/OuLPEOkXqQ. The #JustIN website will offer the same service with a new look.
— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) January 27, 2015
And on Tuesday, LoBianco, who broke the original story, said that according to Pence, the JustIn stories “I think just represent an understandable misunderstanding based on some internal communications.”
LoBianco’s Twitter feed makes clear that this was not a misunderstanding, but given the outcry, the plans for JustIN may well be scrapped by the time this story is posted. We’ll keep you updated.
Mark Krotov was a senior editor at Melville House.