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Washington lawmaker assails media as 'dirty, godless, hateful people'

Washington Legislature
Washington Legislature
At a pro-gun rally on Saturday, Washington state Rep. Matt Shea called some in the media 'dirty, godless, hateful people'

A Republican state representative from eastern Washington is drawing attention after comments he made about the media at a pro-gun rally over the weekend. 

At the "Liberty or Death" event on Saturday in Spokane, Republican Matt Shea of Spokane Valley, who's currently seeking a sixth term in office, said "a lot of people in the media" are guilty of smear campaigns, innuendo and implication.

"And I want to tell you something about that," Shea told the crowd. "We can't become those dirty, godless, hateful people. We have to uphold free speech no matter what." 

A tweet on Saturday from Spokesman-Review reporter Rebecca White who covered a gun rights rally that featured a speech by Republican state Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley.

In his speech Shea, who describes himself as a "Christian conservative constitutional Republican," did not explain who in the media he was referring to, although he did say it included "even some people here today." Shea did not immediately respond to a request for comment  on Monday. 

Shea's speech was recorded by a reporter for The Spokesman-Review newspaper and shared with the public radio Northwest News Network at the network's request. 

Shea, who is the third ranking Republican in the House GOP caucus and a member of the informal Freedom Caucus, is no stranger to controversy. In 2016, he was part of a group of six Northwest state lawmakers who went on a "fact-finding mission" to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, which had been taken over by armed opponents of federal land policies. 

In 2014, Shea traveled to Nevada to show support for Cliven Bundy, a rancher who refused to pay his federal grazing fees and whose sons later led the Malheur occupation. 

A screenshot of state Rep. Matt Shea's Facebook page.

A day after Shea's comments on the media at the gun rally, House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox of Pierce County published a lengthy Facebook post expressing his frustration with the national press, but praising reporters in Washington state.  

"I've had an almost uniformly good experience with the press in Washington," Wilcox said in his post. But he added, "We are in the middle of History moving fast and part of our challenge is to figure out how to covercome the collapse of trust."

In an interview Monday, Wilcox said that he had spoken with Shea, but that his Facebook post was not in response to Shea's criticism of the media. Instead, Wilcox said he was motivated to write about the press following the recent departure of two reporters from The News Tribune of Tacoma and because he's concerned about media censorship.

"If I look at the media, there are people everyday on every network talking about the dangers of censorship, people of all stripes are worried," Wilcox said.

Asked to respond to Shea's comments, Wilcox said, "We've both had different experiences [with the media]." 

Shea was recently named to a task force on public records that will look at how the state legislature maintains and discloses records to the public and the media. The task force includes members of the press.

Wilcox said he believes Shea is still the right choice for the task force.

"His job is to reflect the opinions of the whole caucus and I'm confident that he can do that," Wilcox said. "He's also an attorney which makes it appropriate for him to be on that committee." 

Wilcox added that House Republicans will be pushing to make lawmaker records more available going foward and that the discussion over public records is about more than the media. 

"It's about the public," Wilcox said. "I think Matt has always been a strong champion of the public." 

In a Facebook post Monday, Shea continued his anti-media rhetoric and linked to an article from headlined, "The 'Enemy of the People' Media were on the Wrong Side in the Revolution." The article was written in response to recent editorials in more than 300 newspapersacross the country following President Donald Trump attacks on the media, including calling journalists "the enemy of the American people." 

Shea received 57 percent of the vote in this month's primary. He will face Democrat Ted Cummings in the November election.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."