EPA's War On Journalists Is Not A Good Look

from the even-if-it's-become-sadly-expected dept

The Obama administration was terrible when it came to how it treated journalists, acting vindictively against many journalists, and opening up investigations that created massive chilling effects on journalism. While some supporters of our previous President insisted that these actions were necessary due to the journalists "leaking" or revealing sensitive information, that's a ridiculous claim. A journalist's job is to report on things, including revealing the kind of information a government would prefer be kept secret. And, more importantly, normalizing a government at war with the journalists who cover it was bound to be abused even more going forward.

And that brings us to the current administration, whose attacks on journalists have been frequent as well, though of a different, more clumsy nature. While the last administration focused on keeping secrets and launching chilling investigations, this one seems focused on name calling and hamfisted attempts at shutting out the media in the most obvious and petty of ways. Neither approach is good, but the current administration's attacks on journalists are so blatant and so stupid, it just makes people wonder what they're so afraid of.

While most people think mainly about the President's comments about the media, the EPA's attitude towards the media may be even more instructive. Just a few weeks ago, NY Times reporter Eric Lipton, in an interview with NPR's Terry Gross, explained how the EPA sought to shut out the media:

Well, this has been something that's been apparent to reporters that cover the EPA for a year now where every Friday or so we send in a request to the Agency to ask them what's up this week, where is the administrator going? And, you know, therefore can we be there essentially to observe his activity as he travels around the United States, in some cases around the world? It's part of our job to cover that. They never tell us where he's going.

And, you know, every Friday we send in this email to say, you know, we're trying to do our jobs to cover the Agency. What they do is they take their trips. They require that the participants that are, you know, part of the various events that they're going to have not tell any reporters unless they selectively pick a reporter they think is going to give them good treatment. And the only time that we become aware of it is when Scott Pruitt or his staff sends out tweets, and then they issue a press release with photos taken from the staff. So honestly, it's a bit like propaganda as opposed to actual events that the public has access to.

Later in the interview, Lipton shares another story of how EPA boss Scott Pruitt almost ended up at an event where open questions would be asked -- after the organizer of the event declared that it was a town hall-style event with questions, and the EPA not only flipped out and said no Q&A would be allowed, but sent that organizer a list of "allowed" questions that included hard hitting journalistic inquiries like "What has it been like to work with President Trump?"

So it should come as little surprise that on Tuesday, at an event where Pruitt was scheduled to speak, the EPA decided to just keep a bunch of reporters out. Specifically, reporters from the Associated Press, CNN, and an environmental publication called E&E News. In the case of the AP reporter, Ellen Knickmeyer, security allegedly "grabbed [her] by the shoulders and shoved [her] out of" the EPA building.

The EPA's response was that these reporters were blocked due to space constraints:

“The leadership summit quickly reached capacity with a wide variety of stakeholders including representatives from over 40 states, territories, and tribes,” Wilcox said in a prepared statement.

And that sounds like a valid excuse until you hear that there were "dozens of empty seats in the room" according to reporters who were there (mentioned in the same link above).

The EPA also tried to blame the AP reporter for security grabbing her and removing her from the building, but later had to change its false statement claiming that she had tried to shove her way in, which does not appear to be true.

After security told her that “we can make you get out,” Knickmeyer said she took out her phone to record what was happening. Some of the security guards reached for it, and a woman grabbed her shoulders from behind and pushed her about five feet out the door.

Wilcox issued a statement late Tuesday saying Knickmeyer “pushed through the security entrance.” After the AP objected to the characterization, the spokesman issued a second statement removing that account and instead saying Knickmeyer “showed up at EPA but refused to leave the building after being asked to do so.”

Separately, the argument that this was a space issue is undermined by a report that the EPA had a list of which reporters were to be blocked. According to CNN:

A CNN photographer was screened by security guards before the event and was waiting for an escort or further information. Wilcox arrived soon after and provided security with a list of news outlets and reporters, instructing them not to let anyone not on the list into the event. The CNN photographer then asked if he could enter the event and was told by security he couldn't.

This is a really bad look for an agency that already is looking pretty dismal. The fact that some press was let in and others weren't -- and that phony excuses were used multiple times in multiple ways -- suggests an agency that wants to be vindictive against coverage it doesn't like. These kinds of attacks on the press may be different in nature than those of the previous administration, but it does show how the general attacks on the press by any administration are shameful attempts to avoid being held accountable. While the strategies may be different, the end effect is a much weaker and less well-informed society. That should be seen as a serious problem.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 May 2018 @ 3:20pm

    A cow-pat by any other name...

    The fact that some press was let in and others weren't -- and that phony excuses were used multiple times in multiple ways -- suggests an agency that wants to be vindictive against coverage it doesn't like.

    Lie. The word you're looking for is 'lie', as in 'Wilcox, speaking for the EPA, lied multiple times about the actions taken by and on behalf of the agency, and the reasons for them.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2018 @ 3:55pm

    Journalists: I recall being in London and taking a flight to Sarajevo when Tito was dying with so called main stream US media journalist on board. Their story was composed on the plain before we reached Sarajevo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dan, 23 May 2018 @ 5:58pm

      Re:

      I don't understand. Are you arguing that the story was somehow incorrect? When someone prominent dies, the facts surrounding their death are the least important parts of the story, absent an assassination. The obituary focuses on what they did in life, with MAYBE a graf or two about their actual death.

      This is also true of even smaller, non-death stories. If you're going to a contentious city council meeting about water rights, you SHOULD have half the story written well before the meeting. In order to understand the issue at hand, you'll need to do research to know what's being talked about. You'll also need to inform your readers, since they don't know either.

      In many cases, nothing "surprising" happens at meetings — you can call councilors ahead of time and know how they're going to vote, because they very rarely make up their minds at the actual meeting. You can thus have the basic format of the story completed, with only quotes and specifics needing to be added. It's not any different than if you'd waited until after the meeting, except it's usually a) better (as you're less crunched for time), and b) faster, because you did the work ahead of time.

      Now, this can obviously be misused and abused, but just "I saw someone writing a story ahead of time" isn't bad, it's good. The reporter took downtime (flying) and turned it productive, so that once he or she got off the plane, they could focus on the actual reporting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 23 May 2018 @ 4:26pm

    Lesley Stahl revealed what Trump said in a meeting after his nomination. She asked why he lies about and attacks the press. Trump responded: “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

    Like Daddy Trump, like Trumplets in his administration.

    https://theintercept.com/2018/05/22/lesley-stahl-donald-trump-said-he-attacks-the-med ia-so-when-you-write-negative-stories-about-me-no-one-will-believe-you/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2018 @ 4:27pm

      Re:

      Plot twist - no one believes trump

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 23 May 2018 @ 4:55pm

        Re: Re:

        Except himself and his voter base.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          discordian_eris (profile), 23 May 2018 @ 5:58pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Have you ever listened to Trump since the 80s? Even he doesn't believe his own BS. His base will believe anything that indicates that they might put non-white/non-Protestant people back in their place.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 24 May 2018 @ 8:02am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm not so sure about that. Trump may not be so dumb as he appears and behaves the way he does as a method to achieve some end. His supporters like the end they think he is trying to achieve and sincerely hope that the end achieved is the end they want. In that, I am not so sure either. This method may backfire...big time. It may also be that the end Trump is looking for is not the end he has convinced his supporters he is going after. Either way, I will not be surprised.

          The hard part will be cleaning up the mess he is making after he is out of office, whenever and however that happens.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2018 @ 8:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yes, diminishing it is.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 23 May 2018 @ 9:08pm

      Re:

      Huh, I'd always figured he was just constantly attacking the press because he was throwing tantrums that they keep saying mean things. I guess he does have a reason for doing so(though I suspect it's in addition to the tantrum one rather than instead of).

      On the plus side at this point I suspect the only ones who believe him when he says something are his direhard supporters, who would believe whatever he said no matter what the press said, with or without his attempts to undermine them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2018 @ 7:07pm

    surprise surprise

    why is it surprising that government agencies & personnel don't like scrutiny from journalists and the public -- and routinely act to reduce such scrutiny ??

    this is how government generally acts in daily operations. the specific personalities/agencies involved on any given day (Obama, EPA, Trump, FCC, LBJ, Nixon, Lincoln, etc) are insignificant to the overall problem we face as citizens.

    people who somehow expect big government to be routinely honest, transparent, and cooperative are pitifully naive, ignoring vast amounts of current and historical information. Public Servants ain't no such thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Madd the Sane (profile), 23 May 2018 @ 10:56pm

      Re: surprise surprise

      Public Servants better be public, otherwise they won't be public servants for very long. They either be transparent and up-front, or they'll be kicked out, posthumously if the public feels the need.

      Granted, it takes a lot of effort for the torches and pitchforks to come out, but I think we're seeing the signs that the only way the public will be heard is with gunshots.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 24 May 2018 @ 6:52am

    That sure is dumb. If they wanted to focus all attention at the issue and smear it all over they succeeded wonderfully. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The current science denial state not only the EPA but most of the scientific bodies of the got are is alarming, worrying and disgraceful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 24 May 2018 @ 9:13am

    Press the issue

    A free and open press is a hallmark of a healthy democracy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Gary Mont, 24 May 2018 @ 12:18pm

    The T-Rump Era continues unchallenged.

    Every day I read TechDirt and other news outlets, and wonder, were the Germans this far into denial of reality when Adolf and his millionaire thugs, pretending to be National Socialists, took over and led that nation to destruction and distraction, while they robbed it blind?

    I understand that for most Americans, the president is a near-religious figure, and that the belief in the American Way of Democracy is a near-religion, but how can they simply pretend to not see the tide coming their way, or that their state politico-religion has already been heavily compromised by the Billionaire Cabal in power?

    How can such a huge percent of nation's people be so deeply into denial, when the Trump Gang daily shoves reality in their faces?

    Frankly, it staggers the mind.

    To save face, another nation has fallen to Fascism, as the people there simply refuse to see the writing on the wall, lest it tarnish their belief system.

    Apparently, this is why Fascism always works, no matter how blatantly obvious.

    C'est la vie eh.

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2018 @ 3:05pm

      Re: The T-Rump Era continues unchallenged.

      "How can such a huge percent of nation's people be so deeply into denial, when the Trump Gang daily shoves reality in their faces?"

      How big is huge? I thought it was 20 to 30 percent and decreasing as we speak. Even some of the GOP hardliners have begun speaking out against trump's latest gaff where he thinks he can simply revoke someone's citizenship. Forced patriotism? What is this, North Korea?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Gary Mont, 27 May 2018 @ 4:53am

        Re: Re: The T-Rump Era continues unchallenged.

        20-30% of Americans are still fools.

        That is an interesting statistic.

        I have to wonder what its source might be.
        Certainly not Fox News.

        ---

        The American Way is broken. Has been for some time now.

        Due process is no longer even considered as a courtesy by law enforcers or the courts in most cases.

        Law enforcement now adheres strictly to the rules of war fare engagement, and the American Public are the Adversary. They are druggies, infringers, and terrorists.

        Your government now spends more time spying on Americans then on any other nation on earth and is making deals with old enemies to help it spy on Americans so it can claim innocence.

        You are guilty until you can prove your innocence, at your own huge expense, and even then may be prosecuted and incarcerated should your innocence be seen as proof of guilt of a corporation or political figure.

        Possess a contraband drug or banned product and your rights are instantly non-existent, if you are not among the one percent.

        You can be shot dead in the streets by a cop and nobody is to blame but you, under law.

        Corporations - a legal scam invented to eliminate personal legal responsibility for the criminal actions of the "incorporated person", now control the government, the media and the education of your children, to name only a few areas of daily life.

        If, as you state, 70-80% of Americans are aware of these facts, why has nothing changed? Or are these facts, not actually facts in their world view?

        Or in yours.

        Why are a gang of obvious criminals still occupying the White House, rewriting the laws that protect people into laws that allow the exploitation of people for the benefit of the already mega wealthy.

        Could it be because none of these billionaires in power give a shit what Americans want anymore because they're making money like never before and have already set themselves legally beyond the law, so Americans have no voice in their own country, simply because nobody in power is listening?

        Who do you address a grievance to when nobody is listening?

        Who will dare air a grievance when the only result is arrest, detainment or rendition and the ruination of one's life?

        Until Americans realize that it really can happen here, these thieves in business suits will multiply and escalate their feeding frenzy until the nation is drained back into a new depression, or stuck in an eternal, but profitable for the 1% state of war.

        While 20-30% may be the figure attributed to those who have not yet seen the writing on the wall, the other 70-80% are still unwilling to admit that their "God-Gifted" American Way could ever be compromised, let alone taken over by a gang of fascist billionaires and used against the American public, for fun and profit.

        "It Can't Happen Here." is still their mantra.

        Even while its happening on a daily basis right in front of their faces.

        Remember - A sleeping giant may be slain quite easily if it simply cannot awaken.

        ---

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2018 @ 3:58pm

    EPA - Extremely Pathetic Activities

    Extending the Patriot Act

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.