Talking to a crowd is not a private meeting


She may have unseated a deeply established congressman, but it appears Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez still has a little bit to learn about where it’s appropriate to keep media out, and where it’s not.

The Democratic U.S. House nominee from New York’s 14th district recently hosted a pair of town hall meetings, where the “town” was invited, but not the media. In defending the decision to ban the press, Ocasio-Cortez said that because half her constituents were immigrants, there might be sensitive issues popping up like domestic violence, trafficking and personal medical issues.

First, immigrants aren’t the only group who suffer from those issues. Second, when did Ocasio-Cortez become a counselor? Or a law enforcement officer? Or a doctor?

Leaving the media out of a public meeting will not score Ocasio-Cortez any points — not just with reporters, but with the public who would like to know what’s happening at these town halls with the woman likely to become their next House representative. Ocasio-Cortez might have an easy general election against a token Republican, but that doesn’t mean she can sit back and start controlling how the media should cover her. 

But there is a greater issue here that Ocasio-Cortez has overlooked: It’s irresponsible of her to open up any sort of “private” forum and allow people to share such sensitive issues with the belief that a public setting is somehow private. 

Ocasio-Cortez is a millennial, so she knows better than anyone how easy it is for anyone with a smartphone and a data plan to share detailed accounts, pictures and even video with a wider audience. People attending these meetings are being told they are in a “safe place” to share sensitive details about their lives, but in actuality, they are just as likely to suffer exposure of that important information than if the media were simply invited in.

And more so, actually. Despite what some might think of journalists and their aggressive approach to gathering news, we still have an ethical obligation to balance something that is newsworthy with someone’s right to privacy. We think about the impacts our stories have with each and every word we write and publish — a process that might not necessarily be thought through by the average joe with an iPhone.

Ocasio-Cortez has every right to meet with potential constituents outside of the media’s eye. But do it in an actual private meeting, not in a public forum masquerading as one.

It’s a dangerous precedent to set.