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Report: California congressman granted newspaper interview on condition of location at Fox station

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore

A California congressman blackballed his local newspaper for more than a year before acquiescing to a short, 20-minute interview with a single reporter in early February 2018.

But that interview came with an unusual condition: U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes would allow a reporter from the newspaper to ask him questions only if the conversation took place in the lobby of Fresno television station KMPH (Channel 26), a Fox affiliate owned by the conservative-friendly Sinclair Broadcasting Group.

The revelation was made in a lengthy feature article penned by Zach Baron for the magazine GQ earlier this month. Baron spent several weeks shadowing reporters at the Fresno Bee newspaper, which he categorized as part of the “endangered institution” of local journalism.

Baron said, despite the Bee endorsing Nunes in nearly every election since his Congressional career began, the Republican had been giving the cold shoulder to reporters at the newspaper once it started publishing editorials that were critical of his role as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Nunes made national headlines in early 2017 when he claimed information on President Donald Trump’s transition team had been “incidentally collected” by federal intelligence officials; the information had been obtained legally and was targeting foreigners, not Trump’s transition staff.

In February 2018, Nunes agreed to a short interview with Bee reporter Rory Appleton, whose father is a conservative talk radio host who was friendly with Nunes early in his political career. But Nunes did not hold back his opinion on the newspaper’s coverage of him, calling the Bee a “joke” and a “left-wing rag.”

Nunes announced after the interview that he would no longer give interviews to the Bee. Baron reported in GQ that Nunes later purchased advertisement inventory on several of Fresno’s iHeartMedia-owned radio stations, where Appleton’s mother works, including inventory on the station that airs his father’s talk radio program. Some of the ads directly attacked the newspaper, Baron wrote.

Appleton’s father, Roy Appleton, defended Nunes, saying the politician was right to not talk with the newspaper because “every time he talks to them, they change it…and they lie through their fucking teeth about what they talked about.”

The Fresno Bee is owned by the Sacramento-based McClatchy Company, which also owns the Sacramento Bee.

GQ: The Fresno Bee and the War on Local News

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).