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How the Associated Press-NHGOP Controversy Sums Up Republicans’ Distrust in Media

It started with a 139-word story about Kellyanne Conway’s visit last week to speak at a state Republican Party fundraising dinner. Although the event was closed to the press, an Associated Press freelance reporter managed to get in and the NHGOP is not too happy with her or her article, claiming the piece was biased and inaccurate. Now, the incident has spread to right-wing media outlets lambasting the “liberal mainstream media.”

Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, was in Nashua on May 18 as the keynote speaker for the NHGOP’s Spring to Victory fundraiser. Members of the press were told ahead of time that it would be a closed event due to a “mutually agreed upon” decision by the White House and the state party.

Some reporters said they tried to get in to the Radisson Hotel to interview people outside of the room Conway was speaking in, but were told they were not allowed. For AP freelancer Melanie Plenda, she apparently walked in without much trouble.

“I was perfectly prepared, if anyone asked me who was I? Did I have a ticket? Anything like that, I was going to be honest,” Plenda told the New Hampshire Public Radio. “I was going to say no, I’m a reporter and could I speak with an organizer or I would like to get an interview with Ms. Conway. But no one did.”

Plenda said someone who appeared to be a guest invited her into the room, even after she said she didn’t have a ticket.

After the event was over, Plenda filed a four-paragraph story about the event that led with the statement that Conway told attendees to ignore Trump’s critics and the 150-person crowd was “largely friendly.”

“Some people in attendance withheld applause when Conway let loose with snarky comments about Democrat Hillary Clinton,” she wrote in the article.

After it was published, the NHGOP did not hold back from criticizing her for “sneaking” into their event and for misrepresenting the size of the crowd.

“This is an absolute outrage,” said NHGOP spokesman Patrick Hynes to WMUR. “The crowd was wildly enthusiastic in support of Kellyanne Conway’s justified criticism of the atrocious Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.”

He said 430 people attended the event and her report was “grossly inaccurate”and “objectively wrong.”

The AP typically has a State House reporter in New Hampshire. Kathleen Ronayne was their reporter for the past few years, with several freelancers picking up work, but she left this month to run the State House bureau in California. It’s unclear if the AP has hired someone to take her place.

It didn’t stop there, though. The NHGOP blasted out an email on Monday using the incident as an attempt to raise funds for the state party.

“The reporter snuck into our event and misreported on it,” the email read. “She and the Democrats are peddling fake news! Her agenda is to discredit Republicans and we aren’t going to let her write our narrative!”

The email included a screenshot of Plenda’s Facebook post from November where she called for people to resist Trump’s presidency.

“There are a lot of us — roughly more than half to be exact — who said Trump’s vision of the future is not what we want our country to be,” the post reads. “We need to support the ACLU, we need to run for office, we need to oppose legislation that seeks to hurt and further marginalize, we need to join advocacy groups, we need to not be silent.”

Plenda said she regrets the Facebook post, which she has since deleted. She also concedes that she might have been wrong about the crowd size. However, she and the AP are standing by the legitimacy of the story.

“A freelancer covering the NHGOP fundraiser for AP was outside the event when she was invited in by a woman who appeared to be a part of the event,” the AP said in a statement. “AP stands by its reporting. AP standards require employees to refrain from sharing political views in any public forum.”

Due to NHGOP’s efforts to bring awareness to this controversy, it eventually was picked up by other right-wing media outlets, including The Washington Times and even Breitbart.

Plenda said she has now received several threats and emails, including one that said, “We know where you live.”

“Now they’re fundraising off of this, and it’s gone national, and it’s affecting me and my family,” Plenda said. “And I don’t think that is proportional to what they perceived happened.”

Hynes told NHPR that he called attention to the story because the AP at first refused to issue a correction. On Wednesday afternoon, the AP updated the story to indicate they reported the crowd size incorrectly. Breitbart wrote another longer article published Wednesday saying the AP is refusing to “publicly and transparently clarify that its freelance journalist Melanie Plenda did in fact engage in leftwing activism in violation of the newswire’s editorial standards.”

“We want the public to know that there is bad activist reporting happening in New Hampshire and will use all the channels that we can, all the channels we have at our disposal, to get the truth out,” he said.

With the NHGOP’s fundraising email claiming the story is fake news and the conservative national publications picking up the story, it’s becoming fodder for a GOP narrative that the press is biased and can’t be trusted.

A known right-wing blogger in the state dedicated an entire post to the controversy, claiming that the New Hampshire Democratic Party “conned” the reporter into writing a negative article about Trump.

“The reporter is an anti-Trumper who seems to have written that specifically for the Democrats so they could make false claims about the event and Trump’s support in New Hampshire,” the post read. “Because Democrats are trying to paint the picture that Trump is losing support and therefore Republicans are losing support. It appears they are lying, as usual. Rather than try to push their ideas of why they are a better choice than Republicans, they simply keep trying to paint a false picture of Trump and his supporters.”

Trump has criticized the mainstream media for months about being “unfair” and “biased.” It’s what he built his presidential campaign on and what his supporters believe.

According to Gallup, Republicans who say they have trust in the media has plummeted to 14 percent from 32 percent just a year ago. It’s the lowest confidence among Republicans in 20 years.

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Price, Conway Visit New Hampshire to Reaffirm Trump’s Commitment to Ending Opioid Crisis

The latest stop in Tom Price’s opioid crisis listening tour brought the health and human services secretary to the New Hampshire State House on Wednesday. He wasn’t alone, though. Always near him was Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump. They were joined by Gov. Chris Sununu, state Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, among other treatment providers, law enforcement, first responders, and families who have been impacted by the substance abuse crisis.

The meeting in Concord only lasted about an hour and members of the press were not allowed to be in the Executive Council chambers where the listening session took place. Afterwards, Price and Conway went to Manchester Fire Department to learn about the city’s Safe Station program. Press were also kicked out at first, but were then invited back in.

At a press conference after the listening session, Price said solving the opioid crisis is a priority for the Trump administration and his visit was a chance to see how states are dealing with it at the ground level.

“The Department is all in, the President is all in,” he said. “He has such passion for this issue, because he knows the misery and the suffering that has occurred across this land, and wants to help, help solve it.”

Price points to the recent $3.1 million in funds — with more money on the way — being sent to New Hampshire as evidence of the administration’s commitment to getting more resources out into the field.

Yet, more funds are needed for the Granite State, which has the second-highest overdose deaths per capita in the country. Nearly 500 people have overdosed on drugs in 2016. New Futures, a nonprofit focused on the opioid crisis, released a report Monday that found substance misuse costs the state’s economy about $2.36 billion each year.

Sununu praised the White House for its “tremendous” effort in reaching out to the states to see what they think of certain policies and solutions to combat opioid misuse.

“This administration has provided a great philosophy in that they want to set a foundation and a platform for good policy out of Washington but they look to the states to implement it,” he said. “Unlike the previous administration where Washington was going to implement and control everything, they want the states to be the implementers.”

However, Democrats are blasting the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the American Health Care Act, which would make major changes to Medicaid expansion. Democrats argue that the bill would weaken funding for federal programs to battle the drug epidemic.

Just before Price and Conway’s arrival, protesters staged a “die-in,” laying on the floor in the hallways of the State House, holding up signs that said, “Trump lied, I died” and “I died for a billionaire’s caviar.”

Democrats held their own press conference while Price and Conway met with New Hampshire leaders, criticizing Sununu for holding a closed-door meeting.

“New Hampshire won’t stand for a plan where premiums skyrocket, benefits shrink, and thousands are booted off [health care] coverage,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn.

Price said Trump is committed “to make certain that every individual has access to the kind of coverage that they want for themselves and for their family.”

“I think it’s important to step back and say is the Medicaid program the most appropriate program for every individual in that economic setting,” he added. “Is there a better way to provide coverage? Is there a better way to provide services? Whatever the answer to that is the president is committed and we’re committed to making certain every single American has a seamless transition.”

He vowed “that nobody falls through the cracks. That no rug is pulled out from anybody and that we make certain that the coverage and the care is available to every single American.”

Sununu said he had “some severe reservations” about the House’s health care bill, but he appreciates “the progress the House made.”

“We have to move that ball forward,” he said. I do have reservations in some areas when you look at the details. But people have to understand this is simply one part of the process. The Senate is going to go through their process. It shows that Congress isn’t stalled, not stagnated. They’re not going to do nothing. I think we’ve had eight years of a lot of do nothing. They’re doing something and they’re standing up for the American people.”

Conway said the opioid epidemic should be a bipartisan issue that Democrats and Republicans solve together.

“We look at this as a non-partisan issue in need of a bipartisan solution,” she said. “And we are working with people on both sides of the aisle in Washington and within each of the states to do exactly that.”

However, there are instances of disagreement between Republicans, especially on the American Health Care Act. It also appears that New Hampshire leaders and the White House aren’t always on the same page.

Several media outlets reported that the Trump administration was contemplating a 95 percent cut for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which houses the agency’s high-intensity drug trafficking program and drug-free communities support program. Officials dismissed the claims and reaffirmed Trump’s support for ending the opioid crisis. Sununu called the reports “very disconcerting.”

Price and Conway did not mention the national drug czar’s office during their visit. While New Hampshire is one of the hardest hit states of the drug epidemic, it appears an official from the state has not been invited to sit on the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, leaving many to question how committed Trump is to fulfilling his campaign promise.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is chairing the commission, and it was announced Wednesday that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island will also serve on the commission. Bertha Madras, a former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, will also work on the commission, but no one from the Granite State.

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