INDIANAPOLIS – A rare maneuver by Gov. Eric Holcomb is drawing criticism, after he issued a cease-and-desist letter to two news organizations following a critical report.
It is the only time his administration has sent such a request, though his campaign did so in October on a separate matter.
The Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists posted an open letter to Holcomb on Tuesday deriding the cease-and-desist request.
“Our organization, which represents professional journalists throughout Indiana, feels this move is a threat to press freedom,” the letter said. “In our view, your cease-and-desist letters, issued on Nov. 29, are designed to intimidate reporters and journalists looking into your administration. The letters also add to the overall climate in the nation that looks to undermine the credibility of journalists and media outlets.”
The letter also said “Indiana Pro SPJ stands behind the efforts of local and national journalism outlets to report issues of public importance and hold leaders accountable. If there are disputes over accuracy, there are ways to address those concerns without issuing a cease-and-desist order.”
Holcomb sent the letter Friday to the Indianapolis Star and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Reveal wrote the story about Amazon being cleared of responsibility for a warehouse worker's death despite initial findings of four major safety violations. Holcomb and his administration are accused of working to help clear Amazon due to being in the running for a new headquarters.
The Indianapolis Star ran the story prominently.
Holcomb said he felt compelled to issue the letter.
“I will not let the false accusations about Indiana state employees and me stand,” he said. “There are many good, tough, and thorough reporters in the Fourth Estate who seek to educate by way of the truth. Unfortunately, when Reveal and the Indy Star worked in conjunction to publish a false story, it tarnishes journalistic integrity.”
Holcomb spokeswoman Rachel Hoffmeyer said this is the first time the governor has issued a cease-and-desist.
The letter is not binding and its impact questionable, but many people presume it has legal weight.
That is what happened when Julie Berry received one from Holcomb for Indiana campaign Oct. 25.
“My first reaction was, 'Wait, what?'” she said upon opening the email. “I thought it some sort of court order.”
She was running for mayor in Madison as a Democrat and was airing a 15-second ad about bipartisanship. In the commercial was a picture of she and Holcomb at an event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“As you well know, these images were never authorized for use in your political campaign,” read the letter from Holcomb's political director.
It said the appropriation of the photos – including one with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch – gave a false impression that Holcomb and Crouch endorsed her candidacy.
“Eric Holcomb for Indiana expects that you cease and desist your misleading use of the photo, or any other photo of you and the Governor and Lt. Governor, in your political campaign ads.”
Holcomb's campaign said this is the only cease and desist issued by the campaign.
Berry said she took the pictures with her own camera at public events and was simply showing her willingness to work across party lines. She let the initial ad finish its run but then replaced the Holcomb picture.
“If I won, I wanted to make sure my community had a good relationship with the governor's office,” Berry said.
She did not win.