Right-wing media outlets The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon have often acted as de facto press offices for Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency. Media Matters has documented how the two publications have defended Pruitt in the face of his many scandals and tried to discredit sources of information about his misdeeds. Now we learn from Washington Examiner reporter John Siciliano, who covers energy and environment for the conservative-leaning newspaper, that the EPA's press office tried to strong-arm him into writing flattering pieces about the agency and complained to his editors when he refused.
Speaking on June 11 on a panel about media coverage at a conference organized by Citizens' Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan climate activist group, Siciliano recounted the EPA’s attempts to coerce him and his paper to print favorable stories, which he described as “a really bizarre pressure play on their part that I’ve never experienced from an agency, a cabinet-level agency, to enforce an agenda on a journalist.” Siciliano also discussed how the agency referred to him in pejorative terms and pitted him against other journalists -- practices the agency has used against other environmental journalists.
From the June 11 panel titled “Covering Climate Change in the Current Political Landscape”:
[JOHN SICILIANO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT REPORTER]: When Pruitt was starting up his press shop, there was extreme pressure put on me by them to be their lickspittle. And trying to -- I was kind of debating whether or not I wanted to bring this up, but they were -- I’m not going to name names over there; some of them have left -- but they were basically telling my editors things, that they were giving me news, exclusive news, and that I wasn’t using any of it. And that, “He needs to get on the ball. We’re trying to use you guys to break news." And it was like, I was explaining to my editors, they would come at me -- it was like, “They're giving you news?” They’re not giving me any news. They're basically wanting me to be a press release.
And other news organizations have been doing more of that. But we at the Examiner, it’s not really a thing; we’re sort of the middle-of-the-road, center-right publication. And it was a really bizarre pressure play on their part that I’ve never experienced from an agency, a cabinet-level agency, to enforce an agenda on a journalist.
And it still comes up. And I recently found out that I, and not other people in my newsroom, but I am actually somewhat barred. And people have shown me text messages with my name in it with kind of, I don’t know how to, basically not very respectable language used in my reference. And they’re actually trying, my editor was like, “Yeah, they’re trying to pit you guys against each other. Don’t fall for it.” And that’s basically what’s happening.
It got under my skin months ago when they first started. And every time it comes up when I see an email someone shows me or a text message, it really just bothers me. I’ve been contemplating doing something about it, but I’m not sure what.