Taking Their Cues from the Boss?

EPA Security Guards Boot Reporters from Public Meeting

The Environmental Protection Agency escalated the Trump administration’s war on press freedom this week, barring reporters from a public meeting on water contaminants.

The incident occurred Tuesday during the EPA’s two-day National Leadership Summit, led by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to address a recent study on national water supply contaminates.

According to the Associated Press, AP reporter Ellen Knickmeyer was stopped at the meeting room door by EPA security guards who grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her away from security checkpoint. Rene Marsh of CNN and Corbin Hiar of E&E News, an environmental news organization, were also denied entry.

More than 200 people attended, including representatives from state offices, Native American tribes, the chemical industry, and environmental groups. The EPA granted entry to reporters from Politico, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, the Daily Caller, the Hill, MLive, and NJ Advance Media.

EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox reportedly informed Knickmeyer on Monday that the event would be invitation-only, though he gave no explanation for barring specific news organizations. He defended the decision to deny reporters entry in a statement Tuesday to NBC News.

“This was simply an issue of the room reaching capacity, which reporters were aware of prior to the event,” Wilcox said. “We were able to accommodate 10 reporters [and] provided a livestream for those we could not accommodate.”

However, admitted reporters said there were empty seats in the meeting room.

Knickmeyer, Marsh, and Hiar were admitted to the meeting later, but the EPA’s willingness to limit press coverage reflects the administration’s continuing hostility to the media. President Trump attacks accurate reporting as “Fake News” almost daily, and Pruitt’s office expenses and lavish travel at public expense have been frequent subjects of critical coverage.

As the New York Times reported Tuesday, Pruitt calls the water contaminant issues a “national priority.” That makes hearing’s like Tuesday particularly worthy of media attention.

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s selective barring of news organizations, including AP, from covering today’s meeting is alarming and a direct threat to the public’s right to know about what is happening inside their government,” said Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor.

She’s right. The American people deserve access to free and independent press coverage, which is an essential element of democracy and vital for informed civic participation.