Guv Stays Above Fray in Reporter Flap

Thom Weidlich 02.16.23


In a rather bizarre incident last week, a reporter was arrested while covering the Ohio governor’s press conference about a worrying train derailment. While the episode raises several crisis communications issues, of particular note were the (mostly) successful efforts by Gov. Mike DeWine to remain above the fray.

The freight train carrying toxic chemicals derailed and caught fire in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3. Local residents, some of whom were evacuated, are rightly concerned.

To provide an update, Republican Gov. DeWine (pictured) scheduled a press conference  for the afternoon of Feb. 9 in an East Palestine school gymnasium. He arrived two hours late, just when NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert was slated to do an on-air hit. Law enforcement told Lambert, who apparently didn’t realize the presser had started, that he was being too loud. He ended his report to cover the governor’s remarks.

National Guard

That’s when things got interesting. Authorities, mostly Major Gen. John Harris, who is in charge of Ohio’s National Guard, confronted Lambert over his allegedly loud reporting and at one point pushed the journalist in the chest. Harris and others told the reporter to leave, which he refused to do because, you know, First Amendment.

They eventually arrested Lambert, pushing him onto the floor in the foyer outside the gym. They charged him with resisting arrest and criminal trespass. Given the sensitivities, the case was transferred to the state attorney general.

Harris said in an affidavit that he felt threatened by Lambert, which was weird, and that the reporter was “aggressively lurching” at him, which, the video shows, was untrue. Police tried to deescalate the situation by separating the two men.

Lambert’s Reporting

After Lambert’s arrest and during the presser in question, the governor was asked about the incident. He said he didn’t order Lambert’s detainment and that it was wrong to stop his reporting. “It has always been my practice that if I’m doing a press conference, someone wants to report out there and they want to be talking back to the people back on channel, whatever, they have every right to do that,” DeWine said, according to WKBN.

Since then DeWine made other comments about his disappointment over the ado, though at one point he said video supported both men’s narratives, which is untrue.

At a presser on Tuesday this week, DeWine said he hoped the charges against Lambert would be dropped. He got his wish the next day (yesterday), when Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost did just that, saying the charges were “unsupported by sufficient evidence.”

“Regardless of the intent, arresting a journalist reporting at a press conference is a serious matter,” Yost said in a statement.

We agree.

Photo Credit: Gov. Mike DeWine via Facebook

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