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Kevin Kalhoefer

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  • On TV networks across the nation, meteorologists made a colorful statement about the impacts of climate change

    Weather forecasters used ties, necklaces, and mugs to educate viewers about global warming

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    If you happened to watch your local weather forecast last week, you might have noticed a striking pattern being featured. On June 21, the first day of summer, meteorologists across the country and around the world took part in the #MetsUnite campaign to raise awareness of climate change by featuring a distinctive “warming stripes” pattern in their broadcasts.

    On air and on social media, meteorologists donned ties and necklaces and showed off coffee mugs featuring the red, white, and blue stripes. The pattern, created by climate scientist Ed Hawkins, uses a color scale to illustrate rising global temperatures driven by climate change from 1850 to 2017. From left to right, each stripe represents a year with blue stripes indicating cooler average temperatures and red stripes indicating warmer ones, making for a clear visual representation of our recent record warming.

    Ed Hawkins

    The #MetsUnite campaign was started by meteorologist Jeff Berardelli of CBS affiliate WPEC in West Palm Beach, FL, who was inspired after seeing Hawkins’ image. “It struck me as an opportunity to communicate climate change in the simplest way possible,” Berardelli told The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. “In the past few years, it seems the impacts of climate change have accelerated. … And most climate scientists agree we have literally no time to spare to turn the ship around. When we look back, we will view 2015 to 2017 as the turning point years; the years when climate change ‘got real.’”

    Berardelli discussed the campaign during his broadcast on June 21 and connected global warming to West Palm Beach, saying, “Here locally, our temperatures have been shooting upwards. In fact, days above normal, back in 1970 we were at about 30; now our days above normal are over 60, so more than double.”

    Altogether, more than 100 meteorologists around the world took part in the campaign, with many of them making impassioned calls for accepting and addressing the reality of global warming.

    On Minnesota CBS affiliate WCCO, meteorologist Mike Augustyniak emphasized humans’ centrality to global warming, stating, “[Today is] a day where meteorologists across the U.S. are uniting as real scientists to say that climate change is real, it’s happening now, it’s us, we’re causing it, and if we act now, we can actually do something to reverse this.”

    One of the strongest segments came from another South Florida station, which is not surprising given that rising sea levels in the region have driven home the reality of climate change for residents and politicians. On NBC affiliate WTVJ, meteorologist John Morales interviewed Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) about the need for Republicans to embrace the science behind climate change and take action to address it. Morales then concluded the segment by stating, “We will continue to enhance the message that we need to act on climate. Climate change is real, it’s us, and it’s serious.”

    And on NBC affiliate KRNV in Reno, NV, meteorologist Cassie Wilson talked about how the city has been experiencing an increasing number of hotter-than-normal days in recent years, and can expect still more thanks to "the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere":

    Even as a large number of meteorologists are making strong statements on climate change, members of Congress are attempting to stymie a program that helps meteorologists communicate about climate science during their broadcasts. On the same day that the #MetsUnite campaign took place, four GOP senators attacked the Climate Matters program, which has received some funding from the National Science Foundation. The senators, including Ted Cruz (R-TX) and James Inhofe (R-OK), sent a letter to the National Science Foundation’s inspector general calling for an investigation into the agency's grant-making process. 

    TV meteorologists are well-positioned to help Americans understand how climate change affects their local communities, climate communications experts say, and the Climate Matters program, which was launched in 2012, is helping them do so. In 2010, only about half of broadcast meteorologists in the U.S. accepted that climate change is happening, according to polling by George Mason University. By 2017, the percentage had risen to 95. And there was a 15-fold increase in TV weather forecasters' segments discussing climate change between 2012 and 2017. In 2018, thanks in part to the #MetsUnite campaign, we're likely to see the number of climate segments keep increasing.

  • Scott Pruitt's EPA has cozy relationship with Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon

    Under Pruitt, EPA feeds tips to right-wing outlets, gets fawning coverage

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency has developed a remarkably cozy relationship with two conservative outlets: The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon.

    While many other news outlets have been aggressively covering the myriad scandals dogging Pruitt, The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon have gone above and beyond to defend Pruitt from charges of unethical behavior and try to discredit sources of damaging information, often by using mysteriously obtained internal EPA documents. Pruitt has also given exclusive interviews to The Daily Caller and used it as a platform for issuing policy announcements. In essence, The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon are serving as de facto press offices for the EPA.

    This follows a pattern Media Matters has documented of Pruitt giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets and receiving favorable coverage from them. We found that in his first year at EPA, Pruitt gave more than twice as many interviews to Fox News as to the other major cable and broadcast networks combined, and Fox gave significantly less coverage to Pruitt's scandals than did other cable news channels.  

    Mainstream reporters and outlets, in contrast, have been repeatedly attacked and stymied by Pruitt's EPA. The New York Times recently revealed that the agency categorizes media outlets as “friendly” or “unfriendly” and selectively chooses to talk to reporters who it believes will provide positive, uncritical coverage.

    Wash. Free Beacon cited EPA internal documents to concoct misleading defenses of Pruitt’s travel scandals

    After numerous news stories emerged about Pruitt’s exorbitant travel costs, the Free Beacon ran a March 21 article headlined “Obama EPA Administrators Spent Eight Times More Than Pruitt on International Travel.” The article cited “internal EPA documents provided to the Washington Free Beacon” -- which, according to Emily Atkin of The New Republic, came from EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox. The Free Beacon reported that the documents “reveal Obama administration EPA administrators jet setting cost taxpayers roughly $1 million. The EPA has spent $124,000 for Pruitt and his security detail to travel to the G-7 summit in Italy and a trip to Morocco.” But Atkin pointed out the many ways in which the comparison is “laughably inadequate" or "shockingly dishonest” -- including the fact that it compares one year of Pruitt's travel to eight years of his predecessors' travel and ignores domestic travel, which in Pruitt's case has included numerous first-class flights.

    The Free Beacon again defended Pruitt’s travel after a May 7 Daily Beast article described his June 2017 trip to Italy as more focused on tourism than business, based on his recently released schedule. On May 9, the Free Beacon disputed that charge, stating, “New details of Scott Pruitt's trip to Italy to attend the G-7 summit last summer undermine media reports painting the Environmental Protection Agency administrator's trip as a lavish tourist vacation. … Pruitt's schedule, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, reveals the four-day trip was heavy on business dealings.”

    The May 9 Free Beacon article also addressed reports about Pruitt meeting during the trip with Australian Cardinal George Pell, a climate denier who was facing sexaul abuse allegations at the time and was subsequently charged. The Free Beacon claimed that Pruitt had only met with Pell “incidentally” and knew nothing about the charges. But New York Times reporter Eric Lipton called those claims “wrong” and pointed out that EPA staff began planning for the dinner with Pell in May 2017 and were aware that Pell was under investigation when they vetted the meeting.   

    None of these articles in the Washington Free Beacon noted how the publication obtained internal EPA documents, nor did any of the similar articles published in The Daily Caller. Mainstream news outlets, in contrast, typically note how they obtain such documents.

    Daily Caller and Wash. Free Beacon published attacks against former EPA staffer who told Congress of Pruitt’s unethical conduct

    Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign staffer, served as a politically appointed deputy chief of staff to Pruitt until he was placed on administrative leave without pay and eventually fired from the agency in March 2018, after raising concerns about Pruitt’s lavish spending. In April 2018, Chmielewski met with Democratic lawmakers’ staff and appeared on ABC's World News Tonight to detail a wide range of ethical abuses by Pruitt.

    Both The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon published articles that aimed to discredit Chmielewski by citing another former EPA staffer, anonymous sources, and EPA documents.

    Shortly after Chmielewski presented his allegations of wasteful spending and unethical behavior to lawmakers’ staff, The Daily Caller published an April 23 article headlined, “SOURCES: Most Of What EPA’s Leaker Told Dems About Scott Pruitt Is ‘False,’” which cited “sources familiar with EPA’s inner-workings” and quoted an anonymous source saying of Chmielewski’s claims, “more than 60 percent is false, the other 40 percent is information he distorted.”

    On May 7, Pruitt’s former security chief, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, gave his first interview since resigning from the EPA to The Daily Caller. According to multiple reports, Perrotta played an important role in justifying much of the EPA chief’s exorbitant spending. In the interview, Perrotta dismissed the barrage of negative stories about Pruitt as the product of a few “disgruntled employees,” and singled out Chmielewski in particular for criticism, accusing him of retaliating against the EPA over pay-related issues and spreading “false” information. The next week, on May 14, The Daily Caller published portions of a memo that Perrotta wrote in January detailing two phone calls he had with Chmielewski. According to The Daily Caller, the memo showed that “Chmielewski threatened to ‘retaliate’ against Administrator Scott Pruitt and others over a pay dispute.”

    The Washington Free Beacon took aim at Chmielewski in an April 27 article that accused him of inflating his military service on his résumé and “benefi[ting] from the same EPA hiring authority that he said EPA officials had used to dole out raises to two top Pruitt aides, according to knowledgeable sources and EPA documents.” The Free Beacon followed up with a May 7 article that cited “several administration officials and two people who worked with [Chmielewski] on the campaign” to claim that Chmielewski had “a long history of run-ins with law enforcement, including a warning from a Secret Service detail, debt problems and other red flags that could have sunk his mandatory background check.” The New York Times had previously reported that Chmielewski was placed on administrative leave without pay after he and others confronted Pruitt about his unusually large spending, according to “two of the people with knowledge of the situation.” But the Free Beacon instead claimed that Chmielewski was forced out of the EPA because of questions about his background and an occasional inability of EPA staff to locate him while he was assumed to be doing advance work.

    Daily Caller cited EPA statements, emails, and anonymous sources to dispute damning reporting

    The Daily Caller has frequently tried to rebut negative stories about Pruitt and his staff by citing EPA emails, anonymous sources, and statements from EPA spokespeople that did not appear in other outlets. Here are a few that Media Matters has identified in recent weeks:

    • April 19: After The Associated Press published an article, “EPA chief sat in coach when not flying on taxpayer’s dime,” The Daily Caller ran a piece criticizing the headline and quoting an EPA statement that did not appear in any other media reports. The Daily Caller article and the EPA statement both accused AP of downplaying the fact that the flights in question took place on Southwest Airlines, which does not have first-class seats.

    • April 27: During a congressional hearing on April 26, Pruitt appeared to admit to lawmakers that he knew about at least one of two pay raises approved for his staffers when he stated that he had delegated authority to give the raises -- an apparent contradiction of his previous statement that he was unaware of the pay raises. The day after the hearing, The Daily Caller claimed to have a scoop: “An EPA memo obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation shows Pruitt delegated personnel authority to Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson more than one year ago, not around the time of the controversial raises. … Based on the document and Pruitt’s testimony, he was not saying he gave Jackson authority to grant the two raises in question.” The Daily Caller article failed to address the fact that Pruitt gave differing answers about his knowledge of the raises, and neglects to mention that internal emails suggest and three administration officials have stated that Pruitt personally approved at least one of the controversial pay raises.

    • May 8: Following reports by The Washington Post and E&E News about an EPA memo used to justify Pruitt’s first-class travel, The Daily Caller attempted to discredit the reports by quoting two unnamed sources. It wrote, “the memo is not signed, and is addressed to Gail Davis, EPA’s travel coordinator. Two sources said Pruitt would have needed approval from Jeanne Conklin, the acting controller in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, to fly first class.”

    • May 8: The Daily Caller cited EPA emails as it pushed back against Democratic claims that Pruitt wanted to establish a new agency office in his hometown of Tulsa, OK. It wrote, “The Daily Caller News Foundation reviewed emails that show Pruitt asked EPA officials to find a place ‘where he could work’ when he was home in Oklahoma," but didn't ask them to open a new EPA office.

    • May 11: The Daily Caller cited an EPA email as it disputed a New York Times article that claimed Pruitt’s security head Perrotta drank beers with Patrick Sullivan, the assistant inspector general who oversees investigations at the EPA. The Daily Caller wrote, “An email casts doubt on a key detail of The New York Times’s profile on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s former head of security — a detail that impugned the impartiality of a top official in the EPA inspector general’s office. … An email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation provides more evidence that Perrotta and Sullivan did not drink at a bar together across the street from EPA offices.” The Times later corrected its story and reported that Perrotta and Sullivan did not drink beers together.  

    • May 14: The Daily Caller cited EPA emails to push back against reports that Pruitt requested a 24/7 security detail starting on his first day at the EPA. It wrote, “The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained emails that show EPA officials discussed options to enhance Pruitt’s security before the Senate confirmed him. In fact, a member of President Donald Trump’s ‘beachhead’ team at EPA requested beefed up security for Pruitt as a precautionary measure.”

    Pruitt unveiled major policy announcements in Daily Caller

    Media Matters has previously documented how Pruitt turns to conservative and right-wing outlets when he wants to unveil news. Pruitt’s earliest announcements of his planned "red team/blue team" exercise to debate climate science were in June 2017 on The Savage Nation and Breitbart News Daily.

    It’s no surprise then that Pruitt’s EPA has often used The Daily Caller to announce major policy changes at the agency. In March, Pruitt gave an exclusive interview to The Daily Caller to announce a plan to severely restrict the type of scientific data the agency can use for policymaking, which could undermine clean air regulations. Instead of giving other reporters information about the plan, the EPA sent out a press release that linked to the The Daily Caller article.

    Other announcements first reported in The Daily Caller included plans to drop a requirement for new power plants to have carbon-capture technology, the submission of a proposal to roll back the Waters of the United States rule, and the "evolution" of the "red team/blue team" exercise.

    UPDATE (5/22): The EPA barred The Associated Press, CNN, and E&E News from attending a national summit on harmful water contaminants convened by Scott Pruitt. The AP reported that one of its reporters asked to speak to an EPA public affairs person after being denied entry and was then grabbed by the shoulders and shoved forcibly out of the building by security. In a statement, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said, “This was simply an issue of the room reaching capacity” -- though reporters noted there were empty seats in the room. He continued: “We were able to accommodate 10 news outlets and provided a livestream for those we could not accommodate.” One of those reporters in attendance was The Daily Caller’s Jason Hopkins, who claimed to have witnessed the episode with the AP reporter and disputed that the reporter was “‘forcibly’ grabbed.” But a CNN photographer's account of the events supports the AP’s report.

  • Under fire for scandals, EPA head Scott Pruitt again turns to right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt turned to conservative and oil industry-linked outlets to defend himself after receiving a barrage of negative press coverage for his ethically questionable condo lease.

    In the past week, Pruitt has been facing an ethics scandal after numerous stories came out about a $50-a-night rental agreement Pruitt made with the wife of an energy lobbyist for a condo in Washington, D.C. Pruitt, who has a habit of going to right-wing and conservative outlets for favorable coverage, took to The Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal to defend the condo lease and dismiss criticism.

    In an interview with The Washington Examiner for its Washington Secrets column, Pruitt wrote off criticism about his below-market condo lease as evidence of his attackers being willing to “resort to anything” to stop his agenda at the EPA:

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday forcefully pushed back against criticism that he won a short-term sweetheart rental deal from a lobbyist friend, claiming it’s just the latest attempt by his and the president’s attackers to “resort to anything” to stop their agenda.

    “There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes,” he said in an interview with Secrets.

    Pruitt also claimed that he rented only one room of the condo, that his monthly rent was about $1,500, and that the lobbyist whose wife co-owns the condo had no business before the EPA:

    Pruitt dismissed the townhouse controversy, explaining that he rented just one room while he looked for permanent housing. The EPA’s general counsel issued a reporting calling the rent for one room, about $1,500 a month, “reasonable.”

    Pruitt said, “I’m dumbfounded that that’s controversial.” He added that the lobbyist friend from Oklahoma doesn’t have business before the EPA.

    “When you think of the townhouse, the rent last year. The owner of that is an Oklahoman. I’ve known him for years. He’s the outside counsel for the National Rifle Association, has no clients that are before this agency, nor does his wife have any clients that have appeared before this agency."

    Yet recent reporting contradicts each of those claims: ABC News revealed that Pruitt’s daughter occupied a second room in the condo during her White House internship. Bloomberg reported that Pruitt paid “paid $6,100 to use the room for roughly six months,” which comes out to an average monthly rent of about $1,000. And The New York Times reported that the condo owner's husband, Steven Hart, is head of a lobbying firm that represents pipeline company Enbridge, and the EPA signed off on an Enbridge pipeline project while Pruitt was staying at the condo.

    In a separate interview with The Daily Signal, the news site of the oil industry-funded Heritage Foundation, Pruitt claimed that media reports about his rental were “not terribly complete with respect to what the truth is.” He described his arrangement as “an Airbnb-type situation where I rented literally one room that was used in a temporary status, until I found more permanent residence,” and he once again dismissed concerns about the fact that an energy lobbyist’s wife co-owned the condo. From the article:

    Media reports, Pruitt told The Daily Signal during an interview Tuesday, are incomplete and don’t reflect “the truth.”

    “I think the information has been, as things go, I think very intermittent and very sporadic and not terribly complete with respect to what the truth is,” Pruitt said in the interview.

    “We had a memo and a statement from career ethics officials here that have actually reviewed the lease, that actually reviewed comps—comparables of similar units,” Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, told The Daily Signal.

    “And I think what’s missed in this: I didn’t rent a unit,” Pruitt said. “I didn’t rent an apartment. This was an Airbnb-type situation where I rented literally one room that was used in a temporary status, until I found more permanent residence.”

    ...

    Pruitt also pushed back against reports that he rented space from an energy lobbyist.

    “The other thing I would say is that the owner of the residence—people, I’ve heard, say that he’s an energy lobbyist,” Pruitt told The Daily Signal.

    Speaking of Hart, Pruitt said: “He’s the chairman of a law firm. I’ve know this gentleman for years. He’s an Oklahoman, and his firm represents these [energy industry] clients, not him. There has been no connection whatsoever in that regard.”

  • MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt dismisses the scandal over Scott Pruitt's condo rental

    Hewitt, whose son was hired by Pruitt as a press secretary, has been a staunch defender of the EPA chief

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/4): Scott Pruitt hired Hugh Hewitt's son, James Hewitt, as a press secretary at the EPA by exploiting a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act -- a move that ethics experts have criticized, according to The Washington Post. Pruitt used this same loophole to make other hires, and to give raises to two aides against the wishes of the White House. Hewitt's son previously worked at Dezenhall Resources Ltd., a public relations firm that has run campaigns attacking environmental groups including Greenpeace. Hugh Hewitt mounted another defense of Pruitt on his radio show on April 4, dismissing the scandals surrounding the EPA chief as "nonsense."

    Original article below.

    Over the past few days, MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt has defended EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rental of a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, falsely claiming that Pruitt paid market rate for the condo and dismissing ethical concerns many experts have raised about the arrangement. Hewitt’s defense of the rental arrangement is in line with his track record of defending Pruitt from criticism.

    Hewitt defended Pruitt’s ethically dubious $50-a-night lease

    On March 30, ABC News reported that Pruitt had “worked directly with a top energy lobbyist, and without a real estate broker, to set up a $50-a-night rental room in a prime Capitol Hill building co-owned by the lobbyist’s wife during his first six months in Washington.” Under the arrangement, Pruitt paid to rent out one bedroom only on the nights he spent at the condo, even though no other renters stayed in the unit when he was out of town.

    On April 1, Hewitt took to Twitter to defend Pruitt’s leasing setup as “quite common” and dismiss it as a “non-story.”

    Hewitt also claimed that the condo was rented to Pruitt at market rate during a Twitter argument with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle and Republican political consultant Matthew Dowd:

    On April 2, Hewitt appeared on MSNBC Live to claim that Pruitt’s condo lease was appropriate and that criticism of the arrangement was politically motivated: “It is not in any way, shape, or form a gift. It’s much ado about nothing. I think this is really about policy, Stephanie, as we talked about on Twitter, and I think it’s about the [Federal Vacancies Reform Act]. Specifically, people on the left are upset with Scott Pruitt over the Clean Power Plan, which he repealed; the Waters of the United States [WOTUS], which he repealed; the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards today, which he put up for repeal. He’s executing Donald Trump’s policy on WOTUS and on regulatory rollback, and they want him out.”

    Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental was well below market rate for similar units

    Pruitt paid $6,100 over the duration of his six-month stay in the Capitol Hill condo, roughly $1,000 a month. The rate was well below what Pruitt paid for similar housing after he left the condo, as The Washington Post reported:

    After leaving the Capitol Hill condo co-owned by Vicki Hart in July, Pruitt moved to a one-bedroom apartment in an upscale complex in the U Street neighborhood, according to an official with knowledge of the move. One-bedroom units in the building run about $3,000 to $3,500 monthly.

    Several months later, he moved again, signing another lease in a new luxury apartment complex back on Capitol Hill. One-bedroom apartments in the building, which is owned by a large development company, start at about $3,100 per month and go to nearly $4,500.

    ABC News also revealed that Pruitt’s daughter stayed in the second bedroom in the condo for the duration of her White House internship from May to August, during which time Pruitt should have been paying a two-bedroom rate.

    As The Associated Press reported, “Current rental listings for two-bedroom apartments in the [Capitol Hill] neighborhood show they typically go for far more than what Pruitt paid. A two bedroom townhome on the same block as the one leased by Pruitt was advertised for rent on Monday at $3,750 a month. Another two-bedroom unit on the next block was advertised as available for $4,740 a month.”

    Numerous ethics experts have questioned Pruitt’s condo lease

    Despite Hewitt’s assertion that Pruitt’s leasing arrangement was aboveboard, a number of ethics experts expressed concern over Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental.

    Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics, said of Pruitt’s lease, “I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency. That’s why there is a gift rule.”

    After the EPA issued a retroactive ethics approval for Pruitt’s rental arrangement on Friday, Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the ruling “highly unusual” and questioned the logic of the agency's opinion, ABC reported.

    On the March 31 episode of CNN’s New Day Saturday, Water Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said the lease was a gift and the EPA’s ethics ruling left “unanswered questions,” and he debunked many of the EPA’s explanations:

    CHRISTI PAUL (ANCHOR): Now, again, an EPA official told CNN the ethics counsel reviewed this living arrangement, that the ethics issue was not one because he paid rent, they say, and that the landlord was considered a friend and by law, quote, "does not ban federal employees from receiving a gift from a friend." Do you give any credence to those conclusions?

    WALTER SHAUB (CNN CONTRIBUTOR): No, that's silly. And in fact, the EPA released a memo yesterday that was dated yesterday. Pruitt did not go to the EPA ethics office and get advice in advance as to whether this was appropriate. This story broke, and then the EPA tried to come up with a post hoc rationalization, and the rationalization is preposterous.

    They don't actually rely on the alleged friendship, and they really can't because the lobbyist told the press yesterday that they're merely casual friends. That would not meet the standard for an exception of the gift rule based on very close personal relationships where you get a gift under circumstances that it's absolutely clear that the gift was solely motivated by the relationship.

    But the justification they tried to offer which just has about everybody in Washington who's ever looked for an apartment chuckling is the idea that it's perfectly normal in this town to get a prime location -- and this house really is that, it’s right next to the House/Senate office building on Capitol Hill, for $50 a night -- and the owner will hold the house open for you for the -- any night that you don't use it. He won't rent it to anybody else, but you only have to pay for the nights that you actually stay there at well below market rate. There's no doubt that this is a gift and that this is below market rate, and so, the EPA's justification doesn't wash.

    On April 2, The New York Times reported that the EPA signed off on a pipeline project linked to the lobbyist whose wife owned the condo, raising questions about whether there was a connection between the agency’s action and the condo rental. From the Times article:

    Government ethics experts said that the correlation between the E.P.A.’s action and Mr. Pruitt’s lease arrangement — he was renting from the wife of the head of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen — illustrates why such ties to industry players can generate questions for public officials: Even if no specific favors were asked for or granted, it can create an appearance of a conflict.

    “Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the E.P.A. decision,” said Don Fox, who served as general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during parts of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

    Hewitt has a history of defending the EPA administrator

    Hewitt’s defense of Pruitt's rental arrangement is just the latest instance of the radio host and MSNBC personality dismissing the EPA administrator’s scandals (of which there are many).   

    For example, after news broke last year about Pruitt spending $58,000 on charter and military flights, Hewitt defended that expense on the September 29 episode of MTP Daily:

    HUGH HEWITT: I want to push back on Pruitt, and -- I don’t know Zinke yet -- but I've studied everything about Pruitt because I'm interested in the EPA and my son works there.

    Those four trips, all preapproved by the [EPA's Office of General Counsel]. He was going to the bottom of Oklahoma in one of them to meet with stakeholders that President Obama never cared about: small farmers, small plot holders, wetland people. It was the Waters of the United States Rule rollback. By all means, throw some attention on that.

    Earlier that day, Hewitt also defended Pruitt on his radio show, arguing that efforts to condemn Pruitt for his travel are “a dry hole.”

    And in March of this year, after additional stories broke about Pruitt’s expensive travel habits, Hewitt attributed criticism of Pruitt’s travel to an “anti-Trump” bias in the media.

    Additionally, when Pruitt received some of his most negative press coverage of 2017, after he denied the scientific consensus on human-made climate change on CNBC, Hewitt provided cover for Pruitt by having him on his radio show and declaring, "I know you are not a climate denier."

  • Survey of environmental journalists reveals good and bad news about local climate reporting

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A new survey of environmental journalists finds strong interest in reporting on the local impacts of climate change, but a number of factors are making it difficult for reporters to cover such stories, including newsroom downsizing and a lack of time for field reporting.

    The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) survey, which was conducted in collaboration with the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, received responses from 617 SEJ members and found, “Nearly all SEJ survey participants say they are at least slightly interested in reporting local climate impacts stories, with nearly 7 out of 10 saying they are very interested.” And encouragingly, 69 percent of journalists surveyed replied that they had reported on, or supervised a journalist reporting on, a local climate change story in the past 12 months. Of that group, approximately half reported on up to four climate stories, while the other half reported on five or more climate stories.

    The majority of survey respondents were employed by newspapers (51 percent), while others worked for solely digital publications (25 percent), radio (11 percent), or TV (3 percent).

    Despite this strong interest among environmental journalists in covering climate change’s local impacts, the survey found that numerous obstacles made it hard for them to do so: 

    Two-thirds of SEJ survey participants identify lack of time for field reporting as an important obstacle to reporting on climate change, making this their most common obstacle. Half also identify lack of time or space in their news outlet as an obstacle.

    Nearly 6 out of 10 SEJ survey participants think downsizing in their news organization has created or exacerbated obstacles to reporting on climate change, with about 2 out of 10 saying this has occurred “a lot” in their news organization.

    This shouldn't be a surprise given the struggles the local news industry has faced for many years. Last year in particular was disastrous for local news. As the Columbia Journalism Review put it:

    It won’t come as news to many of you that local journalism in our country is in dire shape. Pick your metric—numbers of reporters, newspapers, readers—and nearly all the trendlines veer downhill. It’s not a happy story.

    Nonetheless, it’s an especially worrying trend considered in light of climate change. The impacts of climate change are becoming ever more clear and present in communities all around the country, manifesting in more damaging storms, wildfires, heat waves, and droughts. Indeed, 2017 was a record year for weather and climate disasters. Last year the U.S. had 16 such disasters that each did at least a billion dollars of damage, a tie with 2011 for the most-ever in a calendar year. And 2017 set a record for the cumulative cost of those disasters: $306 billion.

    Local media sources, which are more trusted by Americans than national ones, should be connecting the dots between weather disasters in their areas and climate change. But it’s not a promising sign that even journalists who want to cover local climate stories are finding it hard to do so. The Climate Matters in the Newsroom project, which was involved in the survey, is trying to remedy this problem by offering resources and training to help reporters do localized climate reporting.

    The help is certainly welcome since national media outlets are not getting the job done. They have frequently failed to mention the link between climate change and weather disasters, as Media Matters and others have documented.

    Despite the challenges it highlighted, the survey did have some encouraging findings: Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they receive or expect positive responses from their audiences when they cover climate stories, and nearly all respondents said they feel that climate reporting will be beneficial to society. Hopefully these takeaways will encourage publishers, as well as editors and news directors, to continue to support reporting on climate change, knowing that doing so will satisfy both their audiences and their reporters.

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Scott Pruitt's EPA

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of controversies during Pruitt's time in office

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & EVLONDO COOPER

    This post was updated on 4/24/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    The Trump presidency has been called the most unethical in modern history, with its scandals continuously dominating the news cycle. And the questionable ethical behavior extends far beyond the White House to cabinet members and the departments and agencies they oversee, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Journalists covering the EPA have unearthed a litany of scandals, conflicts of interest, extravagant expenditures, and ethically dubious actions involving administrator Scott Pruitt and other politically appointed officials. Here is an overview of the reporting on ethical scandals at Pruitt’s EPA, starting a week after he was sworn in and continuing up to the present:

    February 24, 2017, KOKH: Pruitt lied to senators about his use of a private email account. An investigation by Oklahoma City Fox affiliate KOKH revealed that Pruitt lied during his Senate confirmation hearing when he said he did not use a private email account to conduct official business while he was attorney general of Oklahoma, a finding later confirmed by the office of the attorney general. The Oklahoma Bar Association subsequently opened an investigation into the matter, which could lead to Pruitt being disbarred in the state of Oklahoma.

    May 17, 2017, ThinkProgress: An EPA appointee appeared to violate Trump's ethics order on lobbyists. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter to Pruitt on May 16 noting that EPA appointee Elizabeth “Tate” Bennett had lobbied both the Senate and the House on EPA regulations as recently as 2016 -- an apparent violation of Trump’s ethics executive order barring former lobbyists from participating in any government matter related to their past lobbying within two years of their appointment.

    June 16, 2017, Bloomberg: Pruitt met with oil executives at Trump’s D.C. hotel, then backed away from a regulation on oil companies. On March 22, Pruitt met with oil executives who sit on the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors, and less than three weeks later, the EPA announced that it was reconsidering a regulation requiring oil and gas companies to control methane leaks. The meeting took place at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., which Time has called a “dealmaker’s paradise” for “lobbyists and insiders.”

    August 28, 2017, E&E News: Pruitt gave a Superfund job to a failed banker whose bank had given loans to Pruitt. In May, Pruitt appointed Albert “Kell” Kelly to head a task force on the EPA’s Superfund program, even though Kelly had been fined $125,000 by federal banking regulators and banned for life from banking activity because of misdeeds committed when he was CEO of Oklahoma-based SpiritBank. Kelly had no previous experience working on environmental issues and, as ThinkProgress reported in February 2018, he had a financial stake in Phillips 66, an oil company that the EPA had deemed responsible for contaminating areas in Louisiana and Oregon. In previous years, Kelly’s bank had given a loan to Pruitt to purchase a share in a minor league baseball team and provided acquisition financing when the team was sold. The bank had also provided three mortgage loans to Pruitt and his wife, as The Intercept reported in December.

    September 20, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt's security team drew staff away from criminal investigations. Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail -- the first-ever round-the-clock protection detail for an EPA administrator -- required triple the manpower of his predecessors' security teams and pulled in special agents who would have otherwise spend their time investigating environmental crimes.

    September 26, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent about $43,000 on a private soundproof booth, violating federal spending law. The Post reported on September 26 that the EPA spent nearly $25,000 to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth in Pruitt’s office, even though there was another such booth on a different floor at EPA headquarters. No previous EPA administrators had such a setup, the Post reported. On March 14, the Post reported that the EPA also spent more than $18,000 on prep work required before the private phone booth could be installed, which put its total cost “closer to $43,000.” On April 16, a Government Accountability Office report found that Pruitt’s use of agency funds for the booth violated federal rules. Agency heads are required to notify Congress in advance when office improvement expenditures exceed $5,000. Two days later, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers that his office is investigating Pruitt’s spending on the booth.

    September 27, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $58,000 on charter and military flights. Pruitt took at least four noncommerical and military flights that together cost taxpayers more than $58,000. The most expensive of these was a $36,000 flight on a military jet from Ohio, where Pruitt had joined Trump at an event promoting an infrastructure plan, to New York, where Pruitt then set off on a trip to Italy.

    October 24, 2017, CNN: Pruitt met with a mining CEO, then immediately started clearing the way for his proposed mine. In May, Pruitt sat down with the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, the company seeking to build the controversial Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. Just hours after that meeting, he directed the EPA to withdraw an Obama-era proposal to protect the ecologically rich area from certain mining activities. (In January 2018, Pruitt reversed his decision without explanation.)

    December 12, 2017, Wash. Examiner: Pruitt made a costly trip to Morocco to promote natural gas. In December, Pruitt flew to Morocco to promote natural gas exports during talks with Moroccan officials, as first reported by The Washington Examiner. E&E reported that the trip cost nearly $40,000, according to an EPA employee. The Washington Post reported, “The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that the EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

    December 15, 2017, Mother Jones/NY Times: The EPA hired a GOP opposition research firm whose VP had investigated EPA employees. Mother Jones reported that the EPA awarded a $120,000 contract to Definers Corp., a Republican PR firm specializing in opposition research and finding damaging information on individuals, to do what the firm describes as "war room"-style media monitoring. According to The New York Times, Definers Vice President Allan Blutstein had submitted at least 40 Freedom of Information Act requests to the EPA targeting employees that he deemed “resistance" figures critical of Pruitt or the Trump administration. After the contract was exposed, the EPA canceled it.

    February 11, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $90,000 on first-class flights and other travel in a single week. During a stretch in early June, Pruitt racked up at least $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs, including first-class, business-class, and military flights. The figure did not include the cost of Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail accompanying him on those trips. One first-class flight was for an overnight trip to New York, where Pruitt made two media appearances to praise Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. According to the Post, “[EPA] records show that wherever Pruitt’s schedule takes him, he often flies first or business class, citing unspecified security concerns.” The Associated Press later reported that, for travel where Pruitt had to foot the bill himself, the EPA head flew coach, according to an EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt’s security spending. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Trey Gowdy (R-SC), demanded documentation and explanation for Pruitt’s first- and business-class work travel, but Pruitt missed the chairman’s March 6 deadline to turn over documents. As of April 11, the EPA still hadn’t provided all requested documents, so Gowdy sent Pruitt another letter demanding the information. Later reporting by The Associated Press found that Pruitt flew coach when taxpayers were not footing the bill.

    February 13, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt flew luxury business class on a foreign airline. Pruitt broke with government rules requiring employees to fly on U.S. carriers. He got a waiver to return home from Milan, Italy, in June on Emirates Airline in what CBS described as “one of the world’s most luxurious business class cabins.”

    February 15, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt met with trucking executives, then preserved a loophole to benefit their company. In May, Pruitt met with executives from Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a company that sells big-rig trucks with retrofitted diesel engines. They were seeking to preserve a loophole that exempted Fitzgerald’s trucks from emission rules. Pruitt announced in November that he would provide the exemption, citing a Fitzgerald-funded Tennessee Tech study that found the company’s trucks emitted no more pollution than trucks with modern emissions systems. But just days after Pruitt made his announcement, EPA staffers published findings that Fitzgerald trucks emit 43 to 55 times as much air pollution as new trucks. And after The New York Times reported on the story, Tennessee Tech's president disavowed the Fitzgerald-funded study and asked the EPA to disregard it. The EPA responded by claiming to the Times that it "did not rely upon the study," even though Pruitt had cited it in making his announcement about the exemption. In April, four Republican senators and 10 Republican House members sent Pruitt a letter asking him to close the loophole.

    February 26, 2018, Politico: The EPA has been hit with a record number of anti-secrecy lawsuits. A Politico analysis found that the EPA has “experienced a huge surge in open records lawsuits since President Donald Trump took office” and that 2017 was “the busiest calendar year by far for open-records cases brought against EPA, according to data stretching back to 1992.” A separate analysis by the Project on Government Oversight found that the EPA has been especially slow in resolving Freedom of Information Act requests.

    March 5, 2018, E&E News/AP: An EPA public affairs official was given the OK to do outside media consulting. John Konkus, a top political aide to Pruitt who works in the EPA's public affairs office, was granted permission to work as a media consultant outside of his agency work. In August, when the arrangement was approved, Konkus had “two likely clients” for his outside work and anticipated adding more in the next six months. The EPA has not disclosed who those clients were. Konkus, a former Trump campaign aide, had been put in charge of hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that the EPA distributes annually -- an "unusual" arrangement, as The Washington Post reported in September. According to the Post, "Konkus has told staff that he is on the lookout for 'the double C-word' — climate change — and repeatedly has instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations."

    March 6, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA awarded a bug-sweeping contract to a business associate of Pruitt’s head of security. The head of Pruitt’s security detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, advised EPA officials to hire his business associate for a contract to conduct a sweep of Pruitt’s office for concealed listening devices, a source told The Washington Post. Perrotta’s move prompted Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to ask the EPA for documentation that Perrotta obeyed federal conflict-of-interest rules.

    March 8, 2018, AP: Almost half of EPA political appointees have strong industry ties. An analysis conducted by The Associated Press found that “nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate. Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.”

    March 8, 2018, The New Republic: Pruitt appointed the vice president of a polluting company to the EPA’s environmental justice advisory council. On March 7, Pruitt announced the addition of eight new members to the agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, one of whom was Michael Tilchin, a vice president of CH2M Hill, a big engineering firm. The New Republic reported that since February 2017, CH2M Hill’s work at the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear weapons production facility in Washington state, “has sparked at least three accidental releases of plutonium dust, which emits alpha radiation—'the worst kind of radiation to get inside your body,’ according to KING-TV, the Seattle-based news station that’s been investigating the incidents.” Dozens of workers at the site have tested positive for internal plutonium contamination in the wake of the releases.

    March 28, 2018, Politico: EPA signs research agreement with firm tied to GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. In March of 2017, Pruitt met with executives from Water-Gen, a technology firm based in Israel, at the behest of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and Pruitt had a second meeting with a Water-Gen executive in May. In January of this year, the EPA agreed to study Water-Gen's technology, an “atmospheric water generator” that the company claims can pull drinkable water out of the air and thereby provide clean water in remote areas with poor infrastructure. The meeting came to light after activists sued the EPA and forced the agency to produce Pruitt’s calendar. Important details about the arrangement, including Adelson’s relationship with the company, are still unknown.

    March 28, 2018, HuffPost: EPA gave employees talking points based on Pruitt’s lukewarm climate denial. Staffers at the EPA received an email on March 27 from the Office of Public Affairs with a list of eight approved talking points about climate change, echoing lines that Pruitt likes to use when discussing the topic. Point No. 5 is one the administrator has repeated often: "Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue."

    March 29, 2018, ABC News/Bloomberg: Pruitt paid below-market rent for a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. For the first half of 2017, Pruitt lived at a prime Capitol Hill address in a condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, wife of energy lobbyist J. Steven Hart. ABC News reported that, instead of contracting with a real estate broker, Pruitt worked directly with Steven Hart to arrange the $50-a-night rental agreement, with rent having to be paid only for the nights Pruitt stayed in the unit. ABC also reported that Pruitt's daughter used a second room in the condo from May to August, in apparent violation of the lease agreement. The EPA reimbursed the condo association $2,460 after Pruitt’s security team kicked in the door, mistakenly believing his safety was in jeopardy. While Pruitt was living in the condo, and paying well below market rate, the EPA gave its approval for expansion of the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline, directly benefiting Enbridge Inc., a client of Hart’s lobbying firm, according to The New York Times. Also, Steven Hart “was personally representing a natural gas company, an airline giant, and a major manufacturer that had business before the agency at the time he was also renting out a room to Pruitt,” according to The Daily Beast, and the Harts have donated to Pruitt's political campaigns since 2010. After the condo story broke, EPA’s top ethics watchdog said that he didn’t have all the information he needed when he initially determined that Pruitt’s rental arrangement did not violate federal rules, and the federal government’s top ethics official sent a letter to the EPA expressing concern over Pruitt’s living arrangements, travel, and reports that Pruitt retaliated against officials questioning his spending. And on April 21, The Hill reported that Pruitt met with Steven Hart last year on behalf a client, an executive linked to Smithfield Foods, according to a newly filed disclosure from Hart's firm. Hart and Smithfield contend that the meeting was about philanthropy and did not constitute lobbying, but the disclosure still appears to contradict Hart’s earlier statement that he had not lobbied the EPA during 2017 and 2018 as well as Pruitt’s earlier claim that “Hart has no clients that have business before this agency.”

    March 29, 2018, The Intercept: Nominee to head Superfund program is lawyer with long record of defending polluting companies. Pruitt has repeatedly claimed that he wants to prioritize the EPA Superfund program, which cleans up sites contaminated by industry. But Trump’s nominee to oversee the Superfund program, Peter Wright, seems unlikely to help the cause. As The Intercept reported, "For the last quarter-century, he has defended companies responsible for some of the biggest of these industrial disasters, including Dow Chemical, where he has worked for more than 18 years, and Monsanto, where he worked for seven years before that." Nonetheless, Pruitt enthusiastically endorsed Wright's nomination. 

    March 30, 2018, CNN: Taxpayers paid for Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail during his personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. Pruitt’s security team accompanied him on trips home to Oklahoma as well as on a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl, according to a letter that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and shared with CNN.

    April 2, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA staff looked into the possibility of leasing a private jet for Pruitt’s travel. Pruitt’s aides contacted NetJets, a company that leases private planes, about "leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis" to accommodate Pruitt’s travel needs. After receiving NetJets’ quote of about $100,000 a month, senior officials objected and the plan was abandoned.

    April 3, 2018, The Atlantic: The White House told Pruitt he could not give two of his closest aides a pay raise, but he used a loophole to do it anyway. In March, Pruitt sought permission from the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office for substantial pay increases for two of his closest aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp. The White House said no. Pruitt then exploited a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase Greenwalt’s salary from $107,435 to $164,200 and Hupp’s salary from $86,460 to $114,590.

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt may have violated ethics rules by having his aide research housing arrangements for his family. Millan Hupp, whose salary Pruitt boosted by 33 percent against the White House’s wishes, did considerable legwork to help Pruitt and his wife find a home last summer. This may have been an ethics violation, as federal officials are barred from having their staff do personal tasks for them, according to ethics experts. 

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt abused a little-known loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire loyalists and ex-lobbyists. In 1977, Congress passed an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act allowing the EPA to hire expert personnel without Senate or White House approval. The section was added to ensure the agency could hire the staff it needed to protect public health, but Pruitt broke from tradition and used the provision to “bring in former lobbyists along with young spokesmen and schedulers,” according to The Washington Post. Pruitt’s controversial hires included loyalists from his home state of Oklahoma, former industry lobbyists such as Nancy Beck, and James Hewitt, the son of radio host and MSNBC personality Hugh Hewitt -- one of Pruitt's most ardent public defenders. The Post reported that "ethics experts say hiring lobbyists through the provision breaks with some of Trump’s ethics rules."

    April 5, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt asked to use vehicle siren during non-emergency, reassigned staffer who objected. Several weeks after taking his position as head of the EPA, Pruitt was stuck in D.C. traffic and asked to use his vehicle's lights and sirens to get to an official appointment more quickly, sources told CBS News. According to CBS, “The lead agent in charge of his security detail advised him that sirens were to be used only in emergencies. Less than two weeks later that agent was removed from Pruitt's detail, reassigned to a new job within the EPA.”

    April 5, 2018, ABC News: EPA improperly paid for repair to Pruitt's condo door, congresswoman says. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who sits on the subcommittee that oversees the EPA’s budget, took issue with the EPA using agency funds to repair a door in Pruitt’s condo after members of his security detail broke it down when they believed a napping Pruitt was unresponsive. “I know that Congress appropriates money for the EPA to protect human health and the environment – not for repairs to the administrator's residence,” McCollum wrote in a letter to the EPA.

    April 5, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt reassigned and demoted EPA officials who questioned his spending. Four career EPA employees and one Trump administration political appointee were demoted or reassigned after they confronted Pruitt and expressed concerns over his excessive spending on furniture, travel, and his security detail.

    April 5, 2018, Salon: Pruitt was involved in a questionable real estate deal while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. Documents obtained by the nonprofit watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that in 2011, Pruitt, then-attorney general of Oklahoma, and his wife flipped a Tulsa home for a $70,000 profit after buying it just days before a court ruled that it had been fraudulently transferred. Kevin Hern, a major campaign donor to Pruitt, bought the house through a dummy corporation. According to Salon, “Evidence suggests that Pruitt planned the quick turnaround on the property in advance.”

    April 5 and 6, 2018, Politico/Politico: Pruitt was late paying his rent and “overstayed his welcome” at the lobbyist-linked condo. Pruitt was sometimes slow in paying rent to his lobbyist landlords. He also stayed in the condo longer than initially agreed. The original $50-a-night rental agreement was supposed to be for just six weeks, but Pruitt ended up using the condo for about six months. Politico reported, “The couple, Vicki and Steve Hart, became so frustrated by their lingering tenant that they eventually pushed him out and changed their locks.”

    April 6 and 9, 2018, Wash. Post/The Atlantic: Doubts cast on Pruitt’s claim that he did not approve controversial pay raises. During an April 4 interview with Fox News correspondent Ed Henry, Pruitt claimed that he did not approve controversial pay raises for his aides Greenwalt and Hupp and had learned about the raises only when the media first reported on them. But on April 6, the Post reported that two EPA officials and a White House official “told The Post that the administrator instructed staff to award substantial pay boosts to both women.” Additionally, administration officials told The Atlantic that an email exchange between Greenwalt and EPA human resources “suggests Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on a controversial pay raise.” The day after The Atlantic’s article came out, EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson took responsibility for the pay raises, issuing a statement reading, “Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA's HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me.”

    April 10, 2018, Wash. Post/Politico: EPA staffers questioned the justification for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail, and one was then fired. Sens. Whitehouse and Carper sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee calling for a congressional inquiry into Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail. In their letter, the senators cited several internal EPA documents that questioned the rationale for Pruitt’s detail, highlighting in particular a February 14 assessment by the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security that concluded that the justification for Pruitt’s security detail (emphasis in original) “DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant ‘threat specific’ information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the Administrator.” Politico reported that one of the EPA career officials who drafted the assessment, Mario Caraballo, was removed from his post on April 10. On the same day, The New York Times also reported that the EPA “has been examining posts on Twitter and other social media about Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, to justify his extraordinary and costly security measures.” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times that the EPA may have violated federal law if the agency was aggressively monitoring Pruitt’s critics.

    April 10, 2018, HuffPost: As EPA head, Pruitt has met with dozens of his former campaign donors. An analysis conducted by the nonprofit MapLight found that Pruitt “has met with more than three dozen organizations that donated to his past campaigns and political committees in the last year,” HuffPost reported. “The donors include major oil and gas companies, electricity providers, coal producers, and conservative think tanks. At least 14 of the meetings were with organizations from Oklahoma, where Pruitt served as attorney general from 2011-16.”

    April 12, 2018, Politico Pro/Mother Jones: EPA staff were concerned about Pruitt’s misleading statements on emissions standards. Emails obtained by Greenpeace via the Freedom of Information Act showed that EPA experts were worried about Pruitt spreading “troubling” and “inaccurate” information in his justification for rolling back Obama-era auto emissions standards. Agency staffers pointed out multiple inaccuracies in Pruitt’s March 20 USA Today op-ed, including Pruitt’s claim that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards “have pushed manufacturing and jobs to Mexico” -- a claim contradicted by the EPA’s own analysis and many other reports. To support his argument, Pruitt cited an analysis written by an author with no background in CAFE from the now-defunct National Center for Policy Analysis.

    April 12, 2018, NY Times: Lawmakers demand information about Pruitt's travel habits and luxury hotel stays. Five Democratic lawmakers sent Pruitt a letter seeking documents related to additional spending abuses after their staff members met with Pruitt’s dismissed former chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski. According to the letter, Chmielewski revealed that Pruitt insisted on staying in luxury hotels priced above allowable limits and pressed for flights on airlines not listed on the government’s approved list so that he could earn more frequent flier miles. Chmielewski also told congressional investigators that Pruitt would direct staff to schedule trips for him to fly back home to Oklahoma and desired locations, telling them, “Find me something to do.”

    April 12, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt used four different email addresses at EPA. Pruitt has used four different email accounts during his time as EPA administrator, according to an agency official and a letter sent by Sens. Merkley and Carper to the EPA's inspector general. Pruitt’s use of multiple email accounts has prompted “concerns among agency lawyers that the EPA has not disclosed all the documents it would normally release to the public under federal records requests,” according to the Post. On April 17, the Post reported that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) will examine whether Pruitt is fully complying with public records requests.

    April 17, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt upgraded to larger vehicle with bulletproof seat covers. In June last year, Pruitt upgraded his official vehicle to a larger, more high-end Chevy Suburban equipped with bullet-resistant seat covers. Federal records show that the Suburban cost $10,200 to lease for the first year and that the lease included an extra $300 a month worth of additional upgrades.         

    April 18, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt faces multiple investigations into his ethics and use of taxpayer money. Pruitt is the subject of multiple investigations by the EPA’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the House Oversight Committee, a Times guide to Pruitt’s investigations revealed. The newest investigation, examining Pruitt’s use of his security detail during personal trips to the Rose Bowl, Disneyland, and basketball games, “brings the number of investigations into Mr. Pruitt’s use of taxpayer money and possible ethics violations to 10,” the Times reported.

    April 19, 2018, Reuters: EPA spent $45,000 to fly aides to Australia in advance of a Pruitt trip that was later canceled. Pruitt sent two aides and three security agents on business-class flights to Australia last August, at a cost of about $45,000, to do advance work for a trip the administrator planned to take, EPA officials told Reuters. The trip was canceled when Pruitt decided to travel instead to Texas to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It has not been rescheduled.

    April 21, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt’s partners in ethically questionable behavior in Oklahoma now work for him at EPA. New York Times reporters examined Pruitt’s career in Oklahoma and identified multiple instances of excessive spending and ethics lapses, noting that “many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past.” The article focused on Pruitt's purchase of a lobbyist-owned home in Oklahoma City when Pruitt was a state senator. According to real estate and other public records, Pruitt purchased the home “at a steep discount of about $100,000” from its prior price through a shell company formed with his business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Pruitt did not disclose the house in his financial disclosure forms at the time, “a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules,” according to the Times. Years later, when he was the state's attorney general, Pruitt awarded more than $600,000 worth of state contracts to Wagner’s law firm from 2011 to 2017. Another business associate, Albert Kelly, led the bank that issued the mortgage for the home. After taking the reins at the EPA, Pruitt gave high-ranking positions within the agency to both Wagner and Kelly.

  • Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox more than twice as often as other major TV networks combined in his first year at EPA

    Fox News, meanwhile, largely ignored controversies about Pruitt’s extravagant travel

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In his first year as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as he did on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. During the same period, Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to controversies about Pruitt’s costly travel than the other major cable news outlets, CNN and MSNBC.

    Pruitt’s preference for appearing on Fox News is part of a wider trend that extends across the Trump administration, with Fox News serving as the go-to network for administration officials. Fox News’ habit of ignoring unflattering news about Pruitt is also in line with the network’s tendency to ignore negative stories about President Donald Trump and his administration.

    In first year as EPA head, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as on the other major networks combined

    Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News 16 times in his first year at EPA. A previous Media Matters study examining Pruitt’s first six months after taking office on February 17, 2017, found that he appeared on Fox News twice as often as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. He continued that trend in his second six months in office, making four more appearances on Fox and only one additional appearance on a non-Fox outlet, CBS. In total, during his first year, he appeared 16 times on Fox and only seven times on the other networks combined.

    Pruitt rarely faced tough questioning during his appearances on Fox, with the exception of two interviews by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. During most of Pruitt's Fox appearances, he advocated for and defended the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, though he also went on the network to defend his rollbacks of other Obama-era environmental protections.

    The Fox program he appeared on most often was Fox & Friends, a show that wields agenda-setting influence with the president. Here are all of Pruitt's Fox News appearances from his first year at the EPA:

    *The segment on Your World with Neil Cavuto on October 17 used footage from an interview Pruitt did earlier on the same day on the Fox Business Network program Cavuto: Coast to Coast.

    Pruitt made just seven appearances on the other major cable and broadcast TV networks combined. In his first year leading the EPA, Pruitt made only seven appearances total on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC. In the majority of these, he defended U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, as he did during his Fox appearances. In other cases, he broadly discussed his agenda and priorities and defended rollbacks of environmental regulations.

    Here are Pruitt’s appearances on the major broadcast TV networks, CNN, and MSNBC during his first year:  

    • Two on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on March 26 and June 4.
    • One on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on February 28.
    • One on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on June 1.
    • One on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 4.
    • One on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on June 6.
    • One on CBS Evening News on January 17.

    Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to Pruitt’s controversial use of taxpayer money than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 27, The Washington Post published an article about Pruitt taking “at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000.”

    The story received extensive mainstream media coverage, including on other cable news networks. During the week after the story broke, from September 27 to October 3, CNN and MSNBC aired 32 and 31 segments on the controversy, respectively, often mentioning other cabinet members' high travel expenses as well. But Fox News aired just seven segments about Pruitt’s costly charter and military flights. In one Fox segment, on the September 29 episode of Your World with Neil Cavuto, correspondent John Roberts stated, “Scott Pruitt took four, maybe five charter flights. Those were all approved by the EPA Office of Ethics, and he has come up with a full explanation for those. … It's my belief that the other departments, Interior, Treasury, EPA, whatever, are allowed to do those private flights, as long as they have pre-approval for that.”

    On February 11, 2018, The Washington Post again detailed Pruitt’s exorbitant spending in an article headlined “First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure.” The Post reported that Pruitt racked up $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs during one stretch in early June, and that figure did not include the additional travel costs for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail. CBS News reported two days later that Pruitt broke with a government policy that officials fly on U.S. airlines by traveling on the luxury Emirates airline on a return trip from Milan, Italy. The story gained further traction after the EPA changed its tune about whether Pruitt had a blanket waiver to travel first class and clarified what security threats justified Pruitt’s use of first-class travel.

    Yet in the week following the Post’s article, from February 11 to February 17, Fox News did not mention the renewed controversy over Pruitt's travel costs even once.* CNN and MSNBC, by contrast, aired four and eight segments on his travel, respectively.

    *Fox News did air two segments on the latest Pruitt travel controversy on the February 19 episode of Shepard Smith Reporting and the February 28 episode of Special Report with Bret Baier, but these segments were aired more than a week after the Post story and fell outside the one-year time frame of our study.  

    On business news networks, Pruitt appeared on Fox Business four times as often as on CNBC

    Pruitt’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network. On the cable business news channels, Pruitt again demonstrated a predilection for Fox, making eight appearances on Fox Business, while appearing only twice on competitor CNBC. Fox Business Network has exhibited strong pro-Trump leanings, as outlets including USA Today and Business Insider have reported.

    Here are Pruitt's appearances on Fox Business shows:

    Fox Business defended Pruitt by attacking a CNN report. After Pruitt gave numerous interviews to Fox Business, the network did Pruitt a favor. In October, it aggressively and baselessly attacked a CNN investigation into moves Pruitt made to help a proposed mine in Alaska right after meeting with the CEO of the mining company pushing the project. The network aired four segments in two days that criticized CNN's story and defended the mine. On all four segments, the hosts and interviewees did not dispute any of the specific facts reported by CNN, but they used highly charged language to try to discredit the story, calling CNN's investigation a "smear," a "hit piece," and "dishonest reporting." (In January, Pruitt reversed his decision and reinstated restrictions on the mine project. Fox News did not report on this reversal.)

    Pruitt gave numerous interviews to right-wing radio programs and a variety of print outlets

    Pruitt frequently appeared on radio shows hosted by climate change deniers like Brian Kilmeade and Michael Savage. Media Matters' previous study on Pruitt's first six months in office found that he made half a dozen appearances on popular right-wing talk radio programs hosted by people who deny climate science. He continued that pattern in his second six months, making appearances on programs including The Rush Limbaugh Show (where he was interviewed by guest host and climate denier Mark Steyn), The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Savage Nation, The Brian Kilmeade Show, The David Webb Show, and Breitbart News Daily.

    Pruitt's print and online interviews included some mainstream outlets. While Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing outlets when doing TV and radio, he granted interviews to a wider variety of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and online publications. Some of those interviews were with conservative outlets, including National Review, The Daily Caller, and The Daily Signal. Some were with the business press, like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. And some were with prominent mainstream outlets, including The Washington Post, TIME, USA Today, Reuters, and The New York Times podcast The Daily.  

    Still, overall, Pruitt heavily favors conservative media when trying to push out his talking points. As Mother Jones recently reported in an in-depth profile of Pruitt, the EPA under his direction "has mostly focused on spreading its message through the right-wing media, talking frequently to Fox News and conservative radio hosts while dismissing less favorable coverage as fake."

    Pruitt's preference for right-wing media is continuing into his second year at the EPA. In the 16 days since his one-year anniversary, he has given interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Daily Signal, and Fox News.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ Media to find Scott Pruitt's on-air TV appearances from the date of his swearing in as EPA administrator on February 17, 2017, to February 17, 2018: “Pruitt,” “Pruett,” "EPA administrator," "E.P.A. administrator," "EPA chief," "E.P.A. chief," "EPA head," "E.P.A. head," "head of the EPA," "head of the E.P.A.," "head of the Environmental Protection Agency," "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator," or "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency." We did not count instances of networks airing Pruitt’s appearance at the White House’s June 2 press briefing.

    We also used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Pruitt’s travel controversies from September 27 to October 3 and from February 11, 2018, to February 17, 2018. We did not count instances of networks airing White House briefings that discussed these controversies.

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2017

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality. But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.

  • The 10 most ridiculous things media figures said about climate change and the environment in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    1. Breitbart’s James Delingpole claimed 400 new scientific papers show global warming is a myth.

    Numerous studies have found near-unanimous scientific agreement on human-caused climate change, with perhaps the most well-known study on the matter finding that 97 percent of scientific papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agree that humans are behind it. And this year, a review of the 3 percent of papers that deny climate change found that they were all flawed. Nonetheless, Breitbart writer Delingpole claimed that 400 scientific papers published this year demonstrated that climate change is a “myth,” basing his article on a post on the denialist blog No Tricks Zone.The fact-checking website Snopes roundly debunked Delingpole’s article, giving it a “False” verdict after speaking with authors of some of the cited papers who said their work was grossly misinterpreted or misrepresented.

    2. The Daily Mail claimed government researchers “duped” world leaders with "manipulated global warming data."

    Daily Mail reporter David Rose alleged that climate scientists "rushed" to publish an "exaggerated" paper in an attempt to convince leaders to support the Paris agreement and spend billions to fight climate change. Rose, who has written his fair share of climate misinformation for the Mail, based his story on an “exclusive interview” with and a blog post by retired U.S. government scientist John Bates. The error-ridden article quickly made its way around right-wing media in outlets such as The Daily Caller, National Review, and Breitbart, and was even promoted by GOP members of the House science committee, including its chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The story’s claims also received “at least 752,300 shares, likes, comments, or other interactions on social media,” according to a Buzzfeed analysis. But the claims in the article were widely discredited by climate scientists, including Bates’ former colleagues and even Bates himself. The errors in the Mail’s article were so significant that the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent media regulator in the U.K., issued a ruling that "the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article ... and had then failed to correct ... significantly misleading statements." The Daily Mail was required to publish IPSO's reprimand.

    3. Radio host Rush Limbaugh said he was "leery" of hurricane forecasts because they advance a "climate change agenda."

    As Hurricane Irma barrelled toward Florida, Limbaugh spun conspiracy theories and told his listeners that hurricane warnings are part of a scheme to benefit retailers, the media, and people like Al Gore who want to "advance this climate change agenda." Notably, Limbaugh didn’t have any skepticism about the danger Irma posed when it came to his own well-being, as he fled from his Florida home to Los Angeles before Irma made landfall. It's not the first time Limbaugh has spouted irresponsible conspiracy theories about hurricane forecasts. He was criticized last year for doing the same thing during Hurricane Matthew, earning himself a spot on the 2016 edition of this list.

    4. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argued that because political operatives were wrong in predicting Hillary Clinton would win the election, people should be skeptical of climate science.

    After Trump’s election, The New York Times launched an ad campaign billing itself as the antidote to Trumpian “alternative facts.” Shortly after that campaign, though, the Times hired Stephens as a columnist -- a serial misinformer who had called climate change a “sick-souled religion” during his time at The Wall Street Journal. In his inaugural column for the Times, Stephens encouraged skepticism of climate scientists and compared those who advocate climate action to Cold War-era authoritarians. Stephens’ column was short on actual facts and science; the one time he cited a scientific report, he got it wrong. The Times added a correction to the column, but numerous scientists pointed out that the correction wasn’t sufficient, and a number of scientists canceled their subscriptions over Stephens’ hiring, his problematic column, and the Times public editor’s dismissive defense of Stephens’ column. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt later cited Stephens' column to defend the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement.

    5. Conservative media commentator Stephen Moore claimed that Trump created tens of thousands of coal jobs in the first few months of his presidency.

    Experts and journalists have repeatedly noted that President Donald Trump's campaign promise to bring back coal jobs is an empty one, since the decades-long decline in coal mining jobs has been driven much more by economic forces, such as increased automation and competition from natural gas and renewables, than by government regulations. But that didn’t stop Moore, a frequent Fox and CNN commentator and former Trump economic advisor, from proclaiming in op-eds in The Washington Times and Breitbart that Trump had already made good on his promise after just a few months in office. Moore cited jobs reports from March and April to claim that Trump had added tens of thousands of mining jobs, thereby restoring the coal industry. But Moore grossly misrepresented the data he cited, which actually included jobs in a number of sectors like oil and gas. Had Moore bothered to look at the actual coal mining jobs category, he would have seen that it had only grown by approximately 200 jobs through April, barely moving since Election Day.

    6. Radio host Hugh Hewitt recommended appointing Rush Limbaugh to a national commission to study climate change.

    In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Hewitt proposed creating a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” But Hewitt’s proposal instantly lost all credibility when he suggested including Rush Limbaugh as one of the commission members. Limbaugh has repeatedly called climate change a hoax, promoted dangerous climate-related conspiracy theories, misrepresented research in an attempt to dispute that global warming is happening, and even criticized a TV show for portraying climate change as a reality.

    7. Fox hosts attacked a journalist and called him "stupid" for asking a Trump official about the links between hurricanes and climate change.

    2017 was a record year for hurricanes, as Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc along their respective paths. A number of climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes. While CNN and MSNBC frequently aired segments discussing the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, Fox News hosts almost exclusively covered the climate change-hurricane link by criticizing others who raised the issue. The September 11 episode of Fox's The Five, for example, featured a lengthy discussion in which hosts criticized CNN's Jim Acosta for asking Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert whether there's a link between climate change and powerful hurricanes. The hosts said that Acosta was “anti-science” and looked “stupid” and “dumb,” and they called his question was "politically opportunistic." Fox's Jesse Watters said concern about climate change stems from liberal “guilt” and a desire to control people’s lives. Likewise, on the radio show Breitbart News Daily, host Alex Marlow pushed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to deny the link between climate change and hurricanes, which Pruitt did, stating, “For opportunistic media to use events like this to, without basis or support, just to simply engage in a cause-and-effect type of discussion, and not focus upon the needs of people, I think is misplaced."

    8. Rush Limbaugh argued that the historic BP oil spill caused no environmental damage.

    Limbaugh cited an article in the right-wing Daily Caller headlined “Bacteria Are Eating Most Of The 2010 BP Oil Spill” and concluded, “The BP spill didn’t do any environmental [damage].” The Deepwater Horizon spill, which leaked oil for 87 days, was the largest accidental spill of oil into marine waters in world history. Researchers have documented a wide array of negative environmental impacts from the disaster. For example, a 2016 study found that the BP spill may have caused irreversible damage to one of the Gulf shore’s most important ecosystems. The spill is believed to have killed tens of thousands animals in 2010, and for years afterward, dolphins and other animals in the area continued to die at higher-than-normal rates.

    9. Fox News’ Jesse Watters claimed, “No one is dying from climate change.”

    During a discussion about Al Gore’s warnings on climate change, Watters, a co-host of Fox News’ The Five, declared, “People are dying from terrorism. No one is dying from climate change.” Rush Limbaugh also made the same assertion this year. But an independent report commissioned by 20 governments in 2012 concluded that climate change already kills more people than terrorism, with an estimated 400,000 deaths linked to climate change each year.

    10. Radio host Alex Jones said it was "suspicious" that Hurricane Irma came along shortly before the release of a climate disaster movie.

    Jones briefly speculated about the possibility that Hurricane Irma was “geoengineered” or created by humans before stating, “Meanwhile, though, right on time with these superstorms, we have the new film Geoengineering (sic) 2017, coming soon on October 20. Oh, just a little bit more than a month or so after Irma is set to hit. Isn’t that just perfect timing? Like all these race war films they’ve been putting out. This is starting to get suspicious. Here it is, Geostorm.” The action movie Geostorm featured satellites that controlled the global climate. Jones' speculation about the film is just one of the countless conspiracy theories he has promoted over the years.

  • Fox News has ignored Whitefish’s $300 million no-bid contract to help restore power in Puerto Rico

    Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC have each aired 15 segments on the contract

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    News reports have raised numerous questions about the $300 million contract that Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a relatively inexperienced then-two-person firm based in Montana, to rebuild power lines in Puerto Rico. Members of Congress from both parties have called for investigations into the contract. Mainstream media outlets, including MSNBC and CNN, have given the story widespread coverage, but as of midday on October 27, Fox News had yet to even mention the Whitefish contract.

    Reports detail controversial $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy, a two-person Montana firm, to help restore power in Puerto Rico

    E&E News first reported on Whitefish Energy Holdings’ contract with PREPA in stories on October 6 and October 9. E&E News revealed that PREPA decided not to take advantage of a mutual aid program among 1,100 electric companies that could have helped to quickly restore power on the island, where about 75 percent of residents still have no electricity. Instead, PREPA awarded a contract to the Montana-based firm, which at the time had only two full-time staffers. From the October 6 article:

    The American Public Power Association, based in Washington, confirmed today that the troubled Puerto Rico public utility that serves more than 3 million people on the island has decided not to request assistance from the group of 1,100 U.S. electricity companies standing ready to help.

    The association coordinates mutual aid disaster assistance for U.S. public power companies, which include the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). "The request for help was not activated," said group spokeswoman Meena Dayak. "We do have people who are ready to help."

    Nearly 90 percent of Puerto Rico's electricity customers remain without power. Instead of activating a mutual aid arrangement that might have speeded up recovery time, the utility turned to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small contractor based in Montana, to coordinate outside help. The utility has given no explanation for that decision.

    In the following days, Utility Dive, The Weather Channel, and Montana Public Radio also published stories on Whitefish’s questionable contract. On October 19, Whitefish put out a press release announcing that the contract was worth $300 million, which was followed by additional reports by The Associated Press and The Washington Post. The contract, which is nearly 300 times larger than Whitefish’s next-largest project and the largest restoration contract in Puerto Rico, granted Whitefish an initial payment of $3.7 million for “mobilization of personnel and equipment” and allows Whitefish to charge hourly rates for workers' time that NPR described as "eye-popping."

    A leaked copy of the contract also revealed that it bars government agencies from auditing or reviewing “cost and profit elements” of the deal and prevents PREPA from making "any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of work."

    Whitefish Energy has connections to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Trump campaign donor

    The Post reported on October 23 that Whitefish Energy is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, that Zinke and Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski know one another, and that Zinke’s son worked for the company during one summer. Post reporters wrote that “Zinke’s office said he had no role in Whitefish securing the contract for work in Puerto Rico” and “Techmanski also said Zinke was not involved,” but they also reported that Techmanski had reached out to Zinke’s office after procuring the contract.

    On October 24, Buzzfeed reported that Joe Colonnetta, the head of HBC Investments, one of Whitefish Energy’s major funding sources, had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, but stated, “It’s unclear whether Colonnetta, who did not respond to a request for comment, has specific connections to Whitefish, or whether his stake in Whitefish Energy is simply a business investment.”

    The revelations about PREPA’s contract have attracted widespread media coverage, as have a Twitter spat between the company and the mayor of San Juan, and the connections between Whitefish and Zinke. In the wake of this press coverage, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for investigations into the contract.

    Yet Fox News has remained silent about the controversial contract, even as the other major cable news networks have covered it extensively.

    Fox News has yet to cover Whitefish story, while Fox Business hosted Whitefish spokesman to defend the contract

    Media Matters reviewed cable news coverage of the Whitefish story from October 6, the date of the initial report on Whitefish’s contract, to noon ET of October 27 and found that Fox News had not aired a single segment on the story.

    During that period, the Fox Business Network aired just two segments on the story. The network first mentioned the contract during a headline rundown on the October 25 episode of FBN:am, in which the hosts expressed surprise that a company of Whitefish’s size received such a large contract.

    The second segment was on the October 27 episode of Mornings with Maria. Guest host Megan McDowell, Fox News correspondent Lea Gabrielle, and Republican strategist and former Trump surrogate Erin Elmore interviewed Whitefish spokesman Ken Luce. The five-and-a-half-minute interview included softball questions such as: “What do you say to these investigations? Are they warranted?”, “When did the company hire you?”, “What are the facts that you think aren’t being reported?”, and “How well and how is Whitefish financed for this?”

    Fox Business has a track record of uncritically providing a platform for companies to respond to negative press coverage.

    CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 30 segments on the Whitefish contract

    Fox News’ lack of coverage stands in stark contrast to the other major cable networks’ extensive coverage of the controversial contract. Between October 6 and noon ET of October 27, CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 30 segments on the Whitefish story.

    MSNBC aired 15 segments on Whitefish’s contract with PREPA, including an interview with Luce on the October 27 episode of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle that was much more hard-hitting than Fox Business' interview with Luce. Unlike the Fox Business hosts, anchor Ruhle asked Luce how Whitefish won the contract, as well as how Whitefish justifies contract provisions that bar government audits and that prohibit PREPA from making claims for delayed work, adding, “How does that serve the people of Puerto Rico and the American people?”

    MSNBC also aired a segment on the October 24 episode of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson that featured one of the authors of the October 23 Washington Post story, Aaron Davis, who explained, “Whitefish Energy … has never done anything quite on this scale, or even remotely close to this scale. And now they have, according to the company yesterday, 280 employees and subcontractors working in Puerto Rico. Now compare that to the day after Hurricane Irma came through Florida, and there were 16,000 utility workers who were at the border of Florida waiting to come in under a mutual aid agreement. We don’t think it could have been that many waiting on a boat ready to get into Puerto Rico, but there could have been, according to many people we talked to, thousands. And there wasn’t.”

    CNN also aired 15 segments that mentioned Whitefish's contract, including a report on the October 25 episode of CNN Newsroom in which correspondent Rene Marsh discussed the details of the contract and noted similarities between statements issued by Whitefish and Zinke’s office.

    CNN also ran an on-the-ground report by correspondent Bill Weir that first aired on the October 19 episode The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer -- and was aired on the network seven additional times -- that featured a brief interview in which Weir asked Techmanski how his company won the contract and who initiated the contact between Whitefish and PREPA.

    UPDATE: After the original timeframe of the study and publication, Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier aired a brief report on the Whitefish story on October 27 that focused on the White House and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's claims to have had "nothing to do with" Whitefish being awarded the contract to help rebuild the electrical grid in Puerto Rico. Fox News Tonight also aired a segment on the story late the same night.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “Whitefish” or “white fish” in coverage (4 a.m. to midnight ET) on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Fox Business Network from October 6, the date of the initial story on Whitefish’s contract, to noon of October 27. The interview that first aired on CNN’s Situation Room was subsequently aired seven more times and was counted as eight segments.