President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that one of Arizona’s very own will serve as his new director of communications.
As White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham will be tasked with defending an administration known for its combative relationship with the media.
Thankfully for Grisham, a storied career in Arizona has prepped her for war against reporters who are doing their jobs. Perhaps no one is more familiar with Grisham’s attack-dog abilities than former Arizona Capitol Times reporter (and now editor) Hank Stephenson.
In 2016, while Grisham was serving as the spokesperson for the Arizona House Republicans, Stephenson revealed that House speaker David Gowan was using a government vehicle to travel thousands of miles during his congressional bid. The report forced Gowan to reimburse the state $12,000 for misappropriated expenses.
Gowan, as you might imagine, did not like the story. And Grisham acted fast.
She immediately rescinded the Capitol Times‘ access to the House floor. House Republicans also speciously accused Stephenson of violating decorum rules and tried to get him fired.
And then Grisham implemented a remarkable new policy requiring all reporters who want to enter the House floor to submit to an invasive background check. Any reporter found to have committed a misdemeanor within the last five years or a felony in the last 10 would be barred from the media gallery.
It just so happens that Stephenson was convicted of trespassing about two years before his state vehicle investigation was published. Grisham denied to Phoenix New Times that Stephenson was the target of the new policy, but few bought that story.
After reporters refused to undergo the background check and the Department of Public Safety refused to help the House conduct the checks, Gowan dropped the policy.
Dan Barr — a First Amendment attorney who represented the Capitol Times during the 2016 feud — compared Grisham’s retaliation against Stephenson to the White House’s decision to ban CNN reporter Jim Acosta after he had a contentious exchange with President Trump.
“When you see them retaliate against certain members of the media, Grisham will be right at home in that atmosphere,” Barr said.
Reporter ban notwithstanding, journalists and other public relations professionals described Grisham as good-natured and responsive. Even the reporter she banned.
“I’ve always kind of liked Grisham, despite the fact that she tried to sue me and got me kicked out of the House,” Stephenson said.