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  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • Trump to keynote anti-abortion group's gala after it promoted his DC hotel

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In anticipation of its annual gala, the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) has been promoting official room blocks for the event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and running a contest in which the prize includes a free stay at the property during the gala. On May 14, during the White House press briefing, deputy press secretary Raj Shah then announced that President Donald Trump would be delivering the keynote address at the gala.

    Since Trump’s election, many experts have warned about the potential for the president to benefit from expenditures made at Trump Organization properties. As part of an ongoing analysis of how political groups leverage use of the Trump hotel in D.C. to gain influence with the administration, The Washington Post noted that since Trump’s election, the property has “turned into a Republican power center where foreign governments, political groups, religious organizations and business interests have held dozens of events.” In March, CNN reported that in February alone, Federal Election Commission documents indicated that “the RNC spent more than $271,000 on venue rental and catering at Trump properties in Florida and Washington, DC," noting that "more than half of that" was spent at the Trump International Hotel. Politico similarly explained, “Because Trump has maintained his financial interest in his vast business while president — and, unlike previous presidents, filed for reelection soon after taking office — the relationship between pro-Trump political groups and the Trump businesses has no precedent.”

    SBA List is one group cashing in on its ties to President Trump. On May 22, the group will host its annual “Campaign for Life” gala, with Trump as the keynote speaker. Before Trump’s appearance was announced, SBA List promoted on its website a discounted room rate ($399 per night) at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. for those attending the gala. However, after the White House announced Trump as the speaker, SBA List’s website stopped listing the hotel among its accommodation options. It’s unclear exactly when the change was made, but according a Google cached version of the webpage, SBA List took down the page listing the hotel and discounted rate as early as the night before the announcement.

    In addition, before and after the announcement of Trump as keynote speaker, SBA List promoted a contest in which its members could win a trip to the gala and a stay at the Trump International Hotel.

    SBA List enjoys close ties to the president and his administration. Last year, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the gala’s keynote address, while this year “longtime friend” of the organization Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, will be awarded “SBA List’s 2018 Distinguished Leader Award.” Previously, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser was appointed to lead Trump’s “Pro-Life Coalition.”

  • Politico details Pruitt's seeming quid pro quo relationship with MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt met with lawyers seeking to prioritize the cleanup of a water district in Orange County, CA, at the behest of MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt, one of Pruitt’s staunchest media defenders, according to a Politico story published May 7. The lawyers worked for the same firm, Larson O'Brien, as Hewitt. “Six weeks after that meeting, ... the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address,” Politico reported. Media Matters has noted Hewitt’s full-throated defense of Pruitt amid a litany of scandals and controversies, including his exorbitant travel and ethically dubious condo lease, on MSNBC and his radio show, which Pruitt has appeared on at least a dozen times, according to Hewitt. The story also noted that Hewitt’s son James works in the EPA’s press shop. The Washington Post had reported in April that Pruitt used an obscure provision in a water-safety law to hire James, among others.

    From Politico:

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt placed a polluted California area on his personal priority list of Superfund sites targeted for “immediate and intense” action after conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt brokered a meeting between him and lawyers for the water district that was seeking federal help to clean up the polluted Orange County site.

    [...]

    In many cases, the people whose advice Pruitt is heeding could be useful supporters for him in a future race for U.S. senator or president. They include GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who — as POLITICO reported in March — persuaded Pruitt last year to take a meeting with an Israeli water purification company called Water-Gen that later won a research deal with the EPA.

    Hewitt, a resident of Orange County whose son James works in EPA’s press office, emailed Pruitt in September to set up a meeting between the administrator and the law firm Larson O’Brien, which employs Hewitt and represents the Orange County Water District. Pruitt had been planning to meet with the lawyers in California a month earlier, but cancelled the trip to undergo knee surgery.

    “I’ll join if the Administrator would like me too or can catch up later at a dinner,” Hewitt wrote in his Sept. 18 message. Hewitt added that the issues surrounding the Superfund site were “Greek to me but a big deal in my home county.”

    Pruitt’s aides responded within minutes and quickly confirmed an Oct. 18 meeting for the lawyers and a project director.

    Six weeks after that meeting, on Dec. 8, the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address. A month later, Pruitt proposed listing the site on EPA’s National Priorities List, a move that could make it eligible for long-term federal cleanup funding from the federal government if the responsible polluters cannot be identified and forced to pay for its remediation.

    Since then, Hewitt has been a robust defender of Pruitt, dismissing his recent controversies as “nonsense scandals” on MSNBC in early April and saying his detractors were “just trying to stop the deregulation effort.”

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of the interior secretary’s questionable actions and controversies

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post was updated on 6/28/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s multiple scandals have triggered at least 10 government investigations into his conduct plus requests for at least three more. They involve a number of issues including excessive travel expenditures, apparent coziness with industries affected by his department’s decisions, and potential violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from some types of political activity. Under his leadership, the Department of Interior (DOI) has been credibly accused of doing the bidding of dirty energy lobbyists, misappropriating government resources, discriminating against Native American employees, and censoring scientific reports. Even in an administration that may be the most unethical in modern history, Zinke’s corruption and managerial ineptness stand out.

    Journalists have documented numerous instances of questionable ethical behavior at DOI during Zinke’s 15 months at the head of the department. The following is an overview of original reporting on scandals and controversies at Zinke’s DOI:

    July 26, 2017, Anchorage Daily News: Zinke threatened to pull support for projects in Alaska after Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted “no” on Obamacare repeal. On July 26, Zinke called Alaska’s two senators, Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R), to inform them that Murkowski’s vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act jeopardized administration support for projects in Alaska, including expanding oil drilling. Sullivan called Zinke’s message “troubling,” and Murkowski told E&E News, “It was a difficult call.” The DOI’s inspector general opened an investigation into the incident, then dropped it in late August after the senators refused to discuss it with investigators. The Government Accountability Office also opened an investigation, but then dropped it in June 2018 because DOI did not cooperate, Politico reported. "Interior did not provide us with any information on the substance of the telephone calls. In light of this, we lack the requisite facts on which to base a legal opinion," Thomas Armstrong, GAO's general counsel, wrote to two House Democrats who requested the investiation last year.

    September 28, 2017, Politico/Wash. Post: Zinke gave a speech to a hockey team owned by a campaign donor, then chartered a $12,000 flight home. Zinke traveled to Las Vegas on June 26 to give a motivational speech to a hockey team at the behest of team owner Bill Foley. After the speech, Zinke flew on a charter flight that cost taxpayers over $12,000 to an airport near his Montana home, aboard a plane owned by oil and gas executives. An inspector general report released on April 16, 2018, found that Zinke and his aides failed to relay important details about the trip to ethics officers, including Foley’s role as one of Zinke’s largest campaign contributors and the fact that the speech was unrelated to Zinke’s work as interior secretary. According to Politico, Foley donated $7,800 to Zinke’s 2014 congressional campaign, while employees and political action committees associated with his financial services company donated another $166,860. The inspector general also found that the $12,000 charter flight “could have been avoided.”

    October 5, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s participation in a Republican fundraiser in the Virgin Islands raised ethics concerns. During what DOI labeled an official trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Zinke attended a fundraiser for the Virgin Islands Republican Party in March 2017. Donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a picture with him. After concerns were raised, the Virgin Islands Republican Party reimbursed taxpayers for the trip.

    November 20, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s wife used Interior staff and resources to coordinate her travel with her husband’s. Lola Zinke relied on DOI staff to ensure her travel arrangements allowed her to accompany the interior secretary during some of his official events and trips, including ones to California, Alaska, Norway, and Greenland. “While the department says Lola Zinke paid her own way, the records show Interior used staff time to coordinate some of her activities while traveling with her husband,” Politico reported. One ethics expert called that “an ethically gray area.” Some ethics watchdogs are also concerned that Lola Zinke is using her access to high-level events to further her own political career; until recently, she served as campaign chair for a Republican Senate candidate, and she worked on the Trump campaign and transition teams. The DOI’s inspector general tried to investigate whether these actions and other travel arrangements by Ryan Zinke constituted an abuse or misuse of government resources, but the investigation was stymied “by absent or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and a review process that failed to include proper documentation and accountability,” according to a memo released on November 15.

    December 7, 2017, Politico: Zinke spent $14,000 on helicopter rides so he could attend a swearing-in and ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence. Zinke put taxpayers on the hook for a pair of helicopter trips that blurred the line between his professional and personal obligations. On June 21, he attended the swearing-in of his congressional replacement, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), then took an $8,000 helicopter ride to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia. On July 7, Zinke took a $6,250 round-trip helicopter flight from Washington, D.C., to Yorktown, VA, to guarantee he was back in time to go horseback riding with Pence and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). The inspector general’s office declined to confirm an investigation into these specific helicopter rides, but spokesperson Nancy DiPaolo told CNN on December 8, “We are taking a comprehensive look at the secretary’s travel since he took office.”

    December 29, 2017, Newsweek: Zinke spent almost $40,000 in wildfire preparedness funds for a helicopter tour of Nevada. On July 30, days after firefighters managed to largely contain the Whittier Fire in California, Zinke used nearly $40,000 from wildfire preparedness funds to pay for a helicopter tour of Nevada that did not include any visits to fire zones. DOI initially told Newsweek the tour was “in full compliance of all federal regulations.” But after Newsweek provided Interior officials with documentation showing the tour was paid for with funds “earmarked for such uses as worker pay and to purchase equipment,” DOI admitted the helicopter tour “was charged to the account in error” and said it would pay for the ride from “a more appropriate account.”

    January 22, 2018, HuffPost: Zinke failed to disclose his shares in a firearms company and signed orders that could have benefitted the firearms industry. As nominee for interior secretary, Zinke neglected to inform the Office of Government Ethics that he retained 1,000 shares in PROOF Research, a rifle and weapons-parts manufacturer founded in Zinke’s hometown. Cabinet appointees are required to disclose all assets worth $1,000 or more. Although there is some dispute about the value of Zinke’s shares, HuffPost notes that Zinke’s long relationship with the company may have resulted in the company getting special access at Interior. Zinke provided consulting services to PROOF from 2011 to 2012. As interior secretary, he met with PROOF CEO Larry Murphy and a company lobbyist about a month after he was confirmed. Zinke also enacted policy changes -- such as rescinding the ban on lead ammunition and expanding hunting access at wildlife refuges -- that could benefit the firearms industry.

    February 1, 2018, Politico: Interior appeared to cave to pressure from MGM to stonewall a casino proposal backed by two Native American tribes. The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes received indications from Interior officials in May 2017 that the department would clear the way for the tribes to build a casino in Connecticut, about 12 miles from MGM Resorts International’s nearly $1 billion casino complex in Massachusetts. But MGM launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to convince Interior’s political appointees to change course, including outreach to Zinke via multiple meetings and phone calls with two Nevada Republican lawmakers closely allied with MGM. MGM lobbyists were invited by Zinke for a social visit two weeks before the agency was to decide on the tribes’ request. MGM lobbyists also met with Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose former firm also lobbies for MGM. Bernhardt signed an ethics agreement barring him from “participating in matters involving his former employer,” according to ThinkProgress. On September 15, DOI informed the tribes that it would delay its decision, even though federal law requires it to decide yes or no within 45 days. Records obtained by Politico show that “career staffers were circulating what they labeled ‘approval’ letters just 48 hours before their political bosses reversed course and refused to either OK or reject the tribes’ application.” The DOI’s inspector general has opened an investigation into the incident.

    February 21, 2018, Mother Jones: Scientists resigned in protest after their agency violated ethical guidelines to give Zinke sensitive oil and gas research ahead of its public release. The head of the U.S. Geological Survey’s energy and minerals program, Murray Hitzman, resigned in protest on Dec. 17, 2017, after his agency bowed to pressure to provide Zinke with sensitive data about oil and gas deposits in Alaska before it was released publicly. The deputy associate director of the energy and minerals program also left the agency in part over pressure to violate ethical guidelines. Although DOI asserted its authority to see any scientific research the department produces, “numerous current and former Interior officials, however, say the department’s position raises serious ethical issues—particularly when it comes to energy and mineral assessments, which contain valuable economic data that have the potential to move markets,” Mother Jones reported. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), the ranking member of the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, asked DOI’s inspector general to investigate whether department officials committed any ethical violations in requesting the data.

    March 9, 2018, AP: Interior planned to spend nearly $139,000 to upgrade Zinke’s office doors. Interior officials approved a contract to renovate “three sets of double doors in the secretary’s office, including two doors that open onto a corner balcony with a spectacular view of the Washington Monument and the National Mall,” The Associated Press reported. Though Zinke scoffed at questions about the excessive price of the renovations during a Senate hearing on March 13, two days later he told the House Committee on Natural Resources that he negotiated the price down to $75,000. Despite this, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent Zinke a letter on March 22 asking for a briefing “on the need to replace the doors” and asking for “details on the acquisition process, bidding and receipts,” according to Reuters.

    March 11, 2018, USA Today: Zinke’s trip to Pennsylvania to announce $56 million in grants during a close campaign may have violated the Hatch Act. Toward the end of a tight campaign for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, Zinke went to nearby East Bethlehem to announce $56 million in grants to clean up abandoned mining sites in the area. The entire event “had the feel of a hastily arranged news conference/town hall meeting/political opportunity,” according to the local Observer-Reporter. Saccone was among the politicians present, while his challenger did not attend. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is weighing a request to investigate whether Zinke’s trip was designed to benefit Saccone politically.

    March 15, 2018, AP: Zinke stacks wildlife-trade advisory board with trophy hunters. Zinke appointed trophy hunters, including some with direct ties to the Trump family, to an advisory board tasked with rewriting federal rules to allow the importation of body parts from slain African elephants, lions, and rhinos. The Associated Press reported, “A coalition of more than 20 environmental and animal welfare groups objected that the one-sided makeup of the council could violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires government boards to be balanced in terms of points of view and not improperly influenced by special interests.” Most board members belong to hunting clubs or the National Rifle Association, and one member co-owns a private hunting reserve with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. The Trump administration officially lifted a ban on importing elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia on March 1.

    March 21, 2018, Politico: Zinke had a security detail during his two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey. Ryan and Lola Zinke’s two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey to celebrate their 25-year wedding anniversary also included a security detail, according to records obtained by Politico. Besides these bare facts, the public still does not know important details about this arrangement including “exactly how many security personnel accompanied the couple, who paid for them, how much they cost or whether they traveled with Zinke and his wife, Lola, for the entire trip,” Politico reported.

    March 26, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke filled a new outdoor recreation advisory panel with members who could benefit from DOI decisions. At the urging of industry representatives, Zinke established the “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee last November and appointed “officials representing companies with National Park Service contracts, such as those in the hospitality sector, as well as those from the manufacturing, fishing, boating and all-terrain-vehicle industries,” according to The Washington Post, which obtained records about the committee via the Freedom of Information Act. Two of Zinke’s nominees to the panel were flagged by Interior staffers as having potential conflicts of interest because their companies hold some of the National Park Service’s largest concessions contracts, but they were appointed anyway. 

    March 27, 2018, Politico: Florida’s offshore drilling exemption may have been intended to benefit Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate campaign. On January 4, 2018, Zinke announced a controversial proposal to allow offshore drilling in many new coastal areas, including off the coast of Florida. Five days later, Zinke exempted Florida from the expanded drilling plan after a supposedly spur-of-the-moment encounter in the Tallahassee airport with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. But records reviewed by Politico in March “showed that top officials from the offices of both Scott and the Interior secretary were in regular contact for several days leading up to the sudden announcement, contradicting the supposed spontaneous event that portrayed Scott as protecting Florida’s environment.” According to The Washington Post, “The whole episode seems to have been designed to demonstrate Mr. Scott’s power and influence, by having him appear to summon the interior secretary to his state and bring him to heel in an afternoon.” Scott announced his Senate candidacy on April 9, 2018. The next day, CNN reported the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s Florida announcement violated the Hatch Act.

    March 28, 2018, Talking Points Memo: Zinke’s mass reassignment of career Interior employees may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws. Last July, Zinke initiated the reassignment of 35 Senior Executive Service members at DOI, of which 27 were ultimately transferred. Many were told to “either accept a new placement on the other side of the country or in a role unrelated to their background, or leave the agency,” according to Talking Points Memo. The DOI’s inspector general concluded the reassignments occurred “without a written plan or clear criteria, and without consulting with the departmental leadership,” which created the perception that staff were reassigned for “political or punitive reasons.” Because a third of those reassigned are Native American, DOI may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as its own Indian Preference rules, as TPM later reported. Zinke has reportedly told senior staff that diversity is not important. After a congressional hearing in March, he was also accused of racial insensitivity for responding “Oh, konnichiwa” to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) after she shared the experience of two of her grandfathers who were held in internment camps during World War II.

    April 6, 2018, Reveal: National Park Service deletes climate change from months-delayed report on sea-level rise. “National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge,” according to an investigation conducted by The Center for Investigative Reporting and published on its Reveal website. DOI oversees the National Park Service. Cat Hawkins, the head of the National Park Service’s climate change response program, made the deletions, in possible violation of Interior rules prohibiting political appointees from influencing scientific and scholarly activities. The report was also delayed for 10 months, which hindered park managers’ ability to access the latest research about how to mitigate the effects of extreme weather and sea-level rise on their parks. Zinke told the House Committee on Natural Resources in March, “I didn’t change a paragraph — a comma — in any document and I never would.” DOI’s inspector general is investigating the matter.

    April 16, 2018, HuffPost: Oil industry rep uses perch on DOI advisory group to push “wish list” of regulatory rollbacks. Under Zinke, advisory groups at DOI have been packed with industry representatives who want looser regulations. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a lobbying group that represents 300 oil and gas companies, chairs one such group, which is tasked with recommending how Zinke should manage federal lands for fossil fuel development. The group’s recommendations, which included regulatory rollbacks that had been on WEA’s wish list for years, was initially drafted by Tripp Parks, WEA’s head of government affairs. According to HuffPost, “A document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that Parks created the draft recommendations one day before Sgamma circulated them to committee members overseeing the working group.” The Sierra Club’s legal director told HuffPost, “It’s a very clear instance of regulatory capture.”

    June 13, 2018, Wash. Post: DOI canceled a study of the health effects of mountaintop-removal coal mining with little justification, the department’s inspector general found. After DOI last August halted a major public health study being conducted by the National Academies of Science on the impacts of surface coal mining on nearby residents, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) sent two letters to Zinke requesting information about the stoppage. Grijalva received no answer, so he requested an investigation by the DOI’s inspector general, which then found that “Departmental officials were unable to provide specific criteria used for their determination whether to allow or cease certain grants and cooperative agreements.” Records obtained by Pacific Standard show that before DOI stopped the study, Deputy Assistant Secretary Katharine MacGregor “had no fewer than six meetings with the most powerful mining players in the country. In both April and May of 2017, she met with the National Mining Association. In March and June, meanwhile, she met with Arch Coal, a long-time practitioner of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.”

    June 19, 2018, Politico: Zinke and the chairman of Halliburton could both benefit from a proposed real-estate deal in Montana. A foundation created by Zinke is helping to pave the way for a large commercial development that is backed by David Lesar, the chairman of energy-services giant Halliburton. According to Politico, the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation -- established by Zinke and currently run by his wife Lola -- agreed to allow 95 Karrow LLC, the Lesar-backed entity, to build a parking lot on land that had been donated to the foundation for creation of a park. The Zinkes also personally own land that's adjacent to the proposed development, potentially making that land much more valuable if the proposed development deal were to go through. The deal also raises ethical concerns because Halliburton’s business could be substantially affected by decisions made by DOI. Zinke met with Lesar and the project’s other developers at Interior headquarters last year, Politico reported on June 21. Lesar and Zinke have had a relationship for years -- Lesar and his wife donated $10,400 to Zinke’s first House campaign in 2014. On June 28, DOI's Office of Inspector General announced that it will investigate the matter.

    June 26, 2018, Reuters: Zinke’s promotion of Trump's campaign slogan may have violated the Hatch Act. During a meeting of the Western Governors Association on June 26, Zinke tweeted a photo of one of his socks, which was emblazoned with Trump’s face and his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” Zinke deleted that tweet and then posted a follow-up tweet that crossed out “Make America Great Again” yet still showed Trump’s face -- and then he deleted that one too. Those tweets may have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits some forms of political activity by federal employees, Reuters reported. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced in March that because Trump has confirmed his candidacy for reelection, federal employees are prohibited while on duty from wearing or displaying items with the phrase “Make America Great Again” or non-official pictures of Trump.

    Ted MacDonald contributed to this post.

  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more than on the other major TV networks combined

    Like other Trump officials, Zinke heavily favors the president's favorite network

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined, Media Matters has found. And for the last nine-plus months, as Zinke has been increasingly dogged by scandals, he has not given interviews to any major channels other than Fox networks.

    In exhibiting a clear preference for Fox News during his 13-plus months in office, Zinke is following the same pattern as many of President Donald Trump’s other cabinet officials and top aides, including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

    Zinke has gotten soft treatment on Fox News. During his interviews, the network's hosts and journalists rarely asked about his scandals. Instead of confronting him with tough questions, they let him peddle Trump administration talking points and trumpet brand-burnishing policies such as “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.” 

    Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times and other major networks three times since he took office

    Zinke gave 13 interviews to Fox News and one each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS. From March 1, 2017, when Zinke was sworn in, to April 17, 2018, Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times. He granted only one on-air interview apiece to the other major cable news networks, CNN and MSNBC. On broadcast TV, Zinke appeared only on CBS; he gave no interviews to ABC or NBC.

    Zinke appeared most often on Fox & Friends, a show that shapes Trump’s decision-making. Here are all of Zinke's appearances on Fox News during his time as interior secretary:

    Fox & Friends’ interviews with Zinke were good examples of how he was treated across the network. When the hosts were not feting him for his Navy Seal service or lauding him for enacting Trump's deregulatory agenda, they allowed Zinke’s statements on policy to go unchallenged. Zinke's September 20 appearance on Fox & Friends stands out for its breeziness. Host Brian Kilmeade accompanied Zinke on a tour of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and neglected to ask the secretary about a controversial recommendation Zinke had made just days earlier to shrink four national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on major networks other than Fox:

    On cable business news networks, Zinke appeared on Fox Business seven times and CNBC once

    Zinke’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network, which he has appeared on seven times, compared to once on rival CNBC. Fox Business, like Fox News, regularly echoes Trump administration talking points and attacks the administration's perceived enemies. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs even has the ear of the president, who has invited Dobbs to participate in senior-level meetings via phone.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on Fox Business programs:

    Zinke's sole appearance on CNBC was on Squawk Box on June 29, 2017

    Zinke appeared only on Fox News and Fox Business after becoming embroiled in scandals

    Zinke started getting a notable amount of bad press last summer after an article published on July 26 revealed that he tried to strong-arm Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) into voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Since then, Zinke, like Pruitt and others in Trump's cabinet, has been at the center of numerous scandals involving excessive travel expenses, favors for donors, and undisclosed financial ties to companies that could benefit from his agency’s decisions.

    All of the TV interviews Zinke did with networks other than Fox or Fox Business happened prior to July 26, 2017, after which point his controversies began generating significant media attention.

    Once scandals cropped up, Zinke retreated fully to his safe space. For more than nine months now, Zinke has not granted a single interview to any major TV network other than Fox News or Fox Business.

    Fox News covered a key Zinke travel scandal less than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 28, The Washington Post and Politico reported that Zinke spent more than $12,000 of taxpayer funds to charter a flight from Las Vegas to near his Montana home on a plane owned by oil and gas executives. Commercial flights between the airports run daily and cost as little as $300, the Post reported. Zinke's jaunt was widely reported across cable news the week after the story broke, but more widely on MSNBC and CNN than on Fox.

    From September 28 to October 4, MSNBC ran 27 segments that mentioned Zinke’s travel, while CNN ran 23. The networks' hosts, correspondents, and guests usually brought up Zinke’s travel scandal during wider conversations that included mention of other cabinet members' extravagant travel.

    During the same period, Fox News ran 12 segments about Zinke’s travel -- roughly half as many as each of the other cable news networks. Most of Fox's mentions of Zinke's travel were news alerts restating basic facts from the Post article. When Fox News hosts and correspondents discussed the story on air, they usually downplayed or excused the scandal. For example, on America’s News Headquarters on September 29, White House Correspondent John Roberts said that Zinke was “taking The Washington Post to task” before airing Zinke’s defense for taking private flights. Later in the show, host Sandra Smith remarked, “Zinke makes a fair point,” and noted that he got approval for other controversial flights he took on government planes.

    On April 16, 2018, the Interior Department’s (DOI) inspector general released a report that found Zinke's $12,375 charter flight "could have been avoided." Zinke took the chartered flight so he would have time in his schedule to give a motivational speech to a hockey team owned by a major donor to Zinke's former congressional campaign. The speech did not mention Zinke's work at the Department of Interior. The inspector general’s report concluded, "If ethics officials had known Zinke’s speech would have no nexus to the DOI, they likely would not have approved this as an official event, thus eliminating the need for a chartered flight. Moreover, had ethics officials been made aware that the Golden Knights’ owner had been a donor to Zinke’s congressional campaign, it might have prompted further review and discussion."

    Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ media to find Zinke’s on-air TV appearances from the date he was sworn in as secretary of the interior on March 1, 2017, to April 17, 2018: “Zinke OR Zinky OR Interior Secretary OR Secretary of the Interior OR Secretary of Interior.” We used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Zinke’s travel controversy from September 28 to October 4, 2017.

  • Oklahoma’s largest newspaper blamed Democrats for a Republican problem with abortion

    The editorial board said the failure of an ACA stabilization bill was because Democrats want "abortion on demand"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Recently, Oklahoma has attracted attention from extreme anti-abortion groups because Dan Fisher -- a Republican gubernatorial candidate -- has been very vocal about his desire to “abolish abortion” and his belief that courts should ignore Roe v. Wade. On the heels of that news, the editorial board of a local newspaper tapped into the same well of anti-abortion sentiment to forward an inaccurate assessment of the effort by Congress to stabilize the Affordable Care Act.

    On March 28, the editorial board of The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in Oklahoma, ran an editorial laying the blame on Democrats and their “insistence on unfettered abortion rights” for Congress’ failure to pass an Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium stabilization bill. However, the debate in Congress was actually over the inclusion of language in the bill that would have expanded the Hyde Amendment -- which prohibits the use of federal funds to provide for abortions -- to stop private insurers selling over the ACA exchange from covering abortion as well. In simple terms, Republicans wanted the language included (a change from the status quo), and Democrats did not.

    Even though Republicans were pushing for a more restrictive version of the Hyde Amendment, the editorial board said that blame for the bill's failure should at least partially rest with Democrats. The outlet argued that “Democrats' claims of surprise are hard to buy” because “iterations” of the Hyde Amendment “have existed in various forms “in health-related legislation since 1976.” In addition to misrepresenting the nature of Democrats’ opposition, the editorial board also promoted the right-wing myth that Democrats support “abortion on demand.”

    The Oklahoman wasn’t alone in its inaccurate framing of Democrats’ stance on abortion rights and how it impacted the ACA stabilization bill. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal similarly blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure, writing that “the left has abandoned the idea that abortion is a personal choice and now regards it a self-evident right that everyone must subsidize.” The Wall Street Journal also recently published an opinion piece from Cardinal Timothy Dolan in which he claimed the Democratic Party had alienated Catholics in pursuit of “the most radical abortion license in the country.”

    However, as reported by Politico, the inclusion of the expanded Hyde Amendment language would have curtailed coverage for abortion from private insurers in the marketplaces -- a meaningful distinction that The Oklahoman and others failed to unpack. Indeed, Democrats said their objection wasn’t to the inclusion of any Hyde language, but that the language in question “would significantly expand federal funding restrictions on abortion” because “any insurance plan that covered abortion wouldn’t be able to get federal funds from Obamacare, or worse, insurers in some states wouldn’t be allowed to sell any individual market health plan that covers abortion.”

    In other words, as HuffPost concluded, the proposal would have made it “almost certain no insurer offering coverage to individuals would include abortion coverage.” Under the ACA’s current structure, the Hyde Amendment restrictions are not violated because insurers that want to provide abortion coverage do so through “separate spending accounts, filled only with premiums they have received directly from individuals.” Contrary to the framing used by The Oklahoman and others that the Democrats played spoiler, Politico also reported that when “Democrats offered language similar to what was in the Affordable Care Act,” Republicans rejected this offer. Instead, Republicans demanded “permanent Hyde Amendment language” in the bill that would also apply to private insurers.

    It should be noted that, while the Democrats weren't objecting to the Hyde Amendment as it currently exists, the law is actually an extremely harmful policy that, as the Center for American Progress noted, has “a disproportionate impact on low-income women, young women, and women of color.” It leads to “poor health outcomes” and “contributes to a culture rife with abortion stigma.” It’s also not even popular with voters.

    Rather than discuss any of this, the editorial board of The Oklahoman oversimplified the debate in order to place blame on Democrats and allege that their position on abortion was extreme.

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to make a comeback. It's time to talk about his long reported history of sexual harassment and groping.

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has a long list of sexual misconduct allegations against him, wants to raise his public profile as a climate activist. He made headlines last week when, during an interview with Politico, he threatened to sue oil companies “for knowingly killing people all over the world” by selling a product that contributes to climate change. What didn’t make headlines, though, was that Politico also asked Schwarzenegger about past behavior that "some women" had "called offensive," a reference to charges of groping, sexual humiliation, and harassment made against Schwarzenegger in previous years.

    The accusations against Schwarzenegger, many of which were aired during his 2003 gubernatorial campaign, are similar to accusations that have come out against other high-profile men in the #MeToo era, including charges of nonconsensual groping and verbal harassment. Schwarzenegger also reportedly benefited from a "catch-and-kill" nondisclosure agreement drawn up by the publisher of the National Enquirer, the same kind of agreement that helped Donald Trump avoid the exposure of an alleged extramarital affair.

    Here's an overview of Schwarzenegger's history of alleged sexual misconduct and harassment:

    2003: Sixteen women came forward with allegations of groping or sexual humiliation by Schwarzenegger, the LA Times reported

    On October 2, 2003 -- five days before the recall election in which Californians elected Schwarzenegger as governor -- the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy investigative article that detailed sexual harassment allegations against Schwarzenegger:

    Six women who came into contact with Arnold Schwarzenegger on movie sets, in studio offices and in other settings over the last three decades say he touched them in a sexual manner without their consent.

    In interviews with The Times, three of the women described their surprise and discomfort when Schwarzenegger grabbed their breasts. A fourth said he reached under her skirt and gripped her buttocks.

    A fifth woman said Schwarzenegger groped her and tried to remove her bathing suit in a hotel elevator. A sixth said Schwarzenegger pulled her onto his lap and asked whether a certain sexual act had ever been performed on her.

    According to the women's accounts, one of the incidents occurred in the 1970s, two in the 1980s, two in the 1990s and one in 2000.

    "Did he rape me? No," said one woman, who described a 1980 encounter in which she said Schwarzenegger touched her breast. "Did he humiliate me? You bet he did."

    The LA Times story also cited a 2001 article published in Premiere magazine in which another woman accused Schwarzenegger of inappropriately touching her breast and other people recalled incidents of groping and harassment.

    Schwarzenegger's campaign spokesperson told the LA Times that the candidate had not engaged in improper conduct toward women.

    On the day the LA Times article came out, Schwarzenegger himself told a crowd of supporters that "a lot" of what was reported was "not true," but admitted that he had "behaved badly sometimes" and apologized:

    I know that the people of California can see through these trash politics. Yes. And let me tell you something -- a lot of those, what you see in the stories is not true. But at the same time, I have to tell you, I always say that wherever there is smoke, there is fire. That is true. So I want to say to you, yes, I have behaved badly sometimes. Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful. But now I recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize, because this is not what I tried to do.

    In the days after the initial LA Times story was published, more women spoke out, making for a total of 16 women coming forward before the election with allegations that they had been groped or sexually humiliated by Schwarzenegger.

    One of the women named in the Premiere story and the initial LA Times story, Anna Richardson, filed a libel suit against Schwarzenegger and two of his aides in 2004. After Richardson alleged that Schwarzenegger groped her, Schwarzenegger's staff told the LA Times that she had encouraged the behavior, a claim that Richardson said damaged her reputation. The suit was settled out of court in 2006.

    2005: The publisher of the National Enquirer paid a woman to keep silent about an alleged affair with Schwarzenegger that began when she was 16

    The LA Times reported that American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, promised to pay $20,000 in 2003 to a woman who allegedly had a seven-year affair with Schwarzenegger in exchange for the woman signing a confidentiality agreement that blocked her from talking about it to any other media outlets. The National Enquirer had published a story about the affair two years earlier, in 2001, in which it claimed that the woman was 16 years old when the affair began. But after the confidentiality agreement was signed, American Media never followed up with the woman or gave her the opportunity to tell her story.

    The confidentiality agreement was signed two days after Schwarzenegger announced his intention to run for governor, during a period when Schwarzenegger and American Media were negotiating a multimillion-dollar consulting deal that would have Schwarzenegger serve as executive editor for bodybuilding and fitness magazines owned by the company.

    This is the same kind of "catch-and-kill" arrangement -- in which a company buys a story so as to prevent its release -- that American Media used to silence a woman who had an affair with Trump, as The New Yorker reported in February 2018. The New Yorker story named Schwarzenegger as another person involved in American Media's catch-and-kill arrangements.

    LA Times columnist Steve Lopez summed up the paper's story about Schwarzenegger and American Media in an August 12, 2005, piece:

    My colleagues Peter Nicholas and Carla Hall report that while Schwarzenegger was running for governor and negotiating a multimillion-dollar contract to shill for muscle magazines owned by the company that publishes the National Enquirer, the same outfit was paying Arnold's alleged former "masseuse" $20,000 not to go running her mouth.

    2016: Schwarzenegger said he would not vote for Trump after the Access Hollywood tape came out, but he still partnered with Trump on Celebrity Apprentice

    On October 8, 2016, the day The Washington Post revealed that Donald Trump had been caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women, Schwarzenegger posted a statement on Twitter announcing that he would not be voting for the Republican candidate and calling on fellow Republicans to "choose your country over your party."

    But Schwarzenegger still went forward with plans to replace Trump on NBC's reality show Celebrity Apprentice, and he defended Trump for retaining an executive producer title on the show after he became president.

    2017: Common Cause canceled plans to give an award to Schwarzenegger after being pressured by activists

    The good-government nonprofit Common Cause had planned to honor Schwarzenegger on December 1, 2017, with an award for work he did as governor to combat gerrymandering. But activists started a MoveOn.org petition demanding that the group not give the award to a "serial harasser," arguing, "By honoring Arnold Common Cause is enabling harassers and silencing victims."

    Common Cause then reversed course and announced that it would not give an award to the former governor.

    2018: Schwarzenegger praised the #MeToo movement and touted the benefits of sexual harassment awareness classes during his Politico interview

    On March 11, 2018, Schwarzenegger sat down for a live, hour-long interview at the SXSW Conference in Austin, TX, with Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere. Five minutes of the interview were about sexual misconduct allegations against Schwarzenegger and about the #MeToo movement. Here's a transcript of those five minutes:

    EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE: I want to ask you about maybe a little bit less of a comfortable topic. We've been talking about your time as governor. When you were running initially in 2003 -- this was 15 years ago, right -- towards the end of the campaign there were some women who spoke out about behavior of yours that they called offensive. You apologized for it and said you didn't mean to offend. But obviously, not only is it 15 years ago but it's the last six months have really changed the conversation that we're having about what's going on. What is the difference between that moment and now?

    ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think that first of all the movement, if you're talking about the #MeToo movement, it is about time. I think it's fantastic. I think that women have been used and abused and treated horribly for too long. And I think that now all of the elements came together to create this movement and that now finally puts the spotlight on this issue and I hope that a lot of people learn from that. And I remember that when I -- for instance, when this happened to me, just before the election, with the groping charges, I realized you know, even though you say this was very politically motivated, it was just the day before, two days before the election and all this stuff. But the fact of the matter is you got to take these things seriously because you got to look at it and say, OK, I made mistakes, and I have to apologize. And this is why the first thing that I did when I became governor was that we had a sexual harassment class. Because I said to myself, this is extremely important of an issue, and now we’re representing the people of California, so no one should get into this kind of trouble, no one. And so we had these people come in as experts. And it was really the most unbelievable education. And I recommend for anyone that is confused about this issue, after all of these complaints that women have, and the outcry of women, I would suggest to everyone, if you're still confused about it, that women are treated the right way, to go in to take one of those classes. Because when we took this class and the guy walked in -- it was two women and two guys that were holding this class -- and they said, let me just open up and just say very simply, if a woman comes through this door, and you, governor, say to her, "I love your beautiful red dress," she can take this as sexual harassment.

    DOVERE: Has it made you rethink your own--

    SCHWARZENEGGER: And so here's the important thing. Then he said, but, if you go at the same breath and say to the man, "I like your green tie," he says then it wouldn't be. So there were so many subtle kind of things that you needed to know that you would make mistakes. And the entire time that we were in office we never had one single problem because we had those sexual harassment classes on an ongoing basis. And just educate everyone.

    DOVERE: Has it made you rethink your own things that you did, even in the last couple months?

    SCHWARZENEGGER: No. I just think that we make mistakes, we don't take it seriously, but then when you then really think about it, you say to yourself, yeah, maybe there was I went too far. You know if you do sex scenes in a movie, you know scenes in bed, if you're in the gymnasium and you teach someone how to train and you maybe touch them in an inappropriate way -- whatever it is, you realize you've got to be very sensitive about it and you've got to think the way women feel, and if they feel uncomfortable, then you did not do the right thing and you've got to be sensitive about that. And so--

    DOVERE: Is the problem--

    SCHWARZENEGGER: It just made me think totally differently. And then when the whole spotlight came about, and the spotlight was put on this issue, you know, I could, I said to myself, you know, finally, because I think it is really good that now the spotlight is on it. And it is no different than the spotlight was on it like on equality in America, you know in the '60s, or if it is about the environmental issues, where you talk and talk and talk about it but then finally it clicks and people realize. I mean, for how long have I thrown things out of the window when I was a kid and then eventually the spotlight was put on it and it made you feel bad that you're doing the wrong thing and now you start thinking about it and you never do it again. So I think this is going to put the spotlight on it to such an extent that guys are going to think twice about it to make those mistakes. And I think that everyone should take a sexual harassment class because we've got to go and not ever do those kind of things.

    DOVERE: Is the problem worse in politics or in Hollywood?

    SCHWARZENEGGER: I think it is across the board. I think it is nothing with Hollywood, it is nothing with politics. It can be somebody in the factory, it can be in the military. It can be anywhere, this abuse and this kind of where guys flex their muscles and use their power in order to get certain things. And I just don't think it is right, and I think this is why it's good that women are letting their voice be heard.

  • How Scott Pruitt's EPA is attacking journalists and stifling the media

    EPA takes up Trump’s war on the press by insulting media outlets, withholding information, and flouting public records requests

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post was updated on 5/23/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    Since Scott Pruitt took the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency in early 2017, the EPA has consistently refused to release basic information, blocked reporters from attending agency events, and attacked journalists and outlets whose coverage it didn't like. This antagonistic stance toward the media mirrors President Donald Trump’s unprecedented war against the press, which Media Matters has chronicled.

    Seeking a reset after a year of the agency’s attacks and obfuscation, the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) sent a letter to the EPA’s press office in January in the hopes of improving journalists’ access to EPA information and "begin[ning] a conversation about journalists’ basic needs." The letter made five requests, which the group summarized on its website:

    1. Respond to inquiries in a meaningful and timely manner, arranging interviews with subject matter experts.
    1. Distribute all press releases and advisories, to all who request them, not just to a select audience.
    1. Hold open press briefings on significant news. Invite all regular beat reporters to in-person briefings held at EPA headquarters; provide web conferencing and teleconference access for all interested reporters outside the Washington area.
    1. Reinstate the practice of publishing a weekly list of the EPA administrator’s scheduled public appearances.
    1. Resume the practice of publishing an up-to-date calendar of all the EPA administrator’s meetings — not just public events.

    The EPA failed to respond to SEJ’s letter -- or to a follow-up inquiry -- so the group released the letter publicly in March. SEJ sent the EPA another letter on March 30 calling on the agency to “answer reporters' questions directly, rather than referring them to published articles by their favored media," as summarized on the SEJ website.

    Here are more than 20 examples of Pruitt's EPA assailing the press or frustrating journalists' efforts to cover the agency's actions.

    EPA withholds Pruitt’s schedule from the press. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who headed the agency under President Barack Obama from 2013 to early 2017, shared her schedule on the EPA website every day, but Pruitt, like many other members of Trump's cabinet, withholds basic information about his activities. According to Politico, the EPA has refused “to provide schedules or advisories of his upcoming meetings, confirm his attendance at specific events, or say what city he plans to be in on a given day." As a result, news outlets and watchdog groups have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits to obtain his calendars. When the EPA has eventually responded and released information about Pruitt's schedule, it has generally been bare-bones, partially redacted, or months late.

    EPA spokesperson: “Pruitt does not want open press." While coordinating logistics for a roundtable discussion Pruitt held at the University of North Dakota with the state's senior senator, John Hoeven (R), and governor, Doug Burgum (R), EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox asked that reporters not be permitted to attend, E&E News reported. Hoeven had wanted to include media, but Wilcox wrote to Burgum’s staffers that “most importantly Pruitt does not want open press." After being informed that reporters had already been invited to the last 15 minutes of the event, Wilcox insisted, “We can't have anything open."

    EPA spokesperson called police on North Dakota reporters trying to cover Pruitt event. EPA spokesperson Wilcox threatened to call the police on two reporters from the Grand Forks Herald who were attempting to cover Pruitt’s August 9 visit to the University of North Dakota. The Herald reported that after Wilcox made his threat, “A UND Police officer then arrived to insist the building and its grounds were private property before demanding the reporters move away from the center's front door. … The EERC is not private property and is owned by UND."

    EPA asked radio host not to take listener calls during interview with Pruitt. During his August 9 visit to North Dakota, Pruitt sat for a joint interview with Gov. Burgum, conducted by local talk radio host Scott Hennen. Hennen normally takes listener calls during his show, but documents obtained by E&E News show that EPA spokesperson Wilcox asked him not to during the Pruitt interview, and Hennen acquiesced.

    EPA terminated funding for a nonprofit newspaper after it reported that Trump's budget cuts would hurt the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay Journal, a nonprofit newspaper that covers environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay region and reaches approximately 100,000 readers, has been partially funded by the EPA since 1991. Last June, the paper reported that Trump's proposed budget would slash funding for Chesapeake Bay programs and harm restoration efforts. In August, the EPA abruptly canceled a previously approved $325,000 grant to the paper due to a “shift in priorities." The Bay Journal requested records pertaining to the termination, which EPA failed to produce, so the paper sued. Under pressure from Maryland's Democratic senators, the EPA restored the Bay Journal’s funding in March.  

    EPA attacked NY Times reporters in press release over pesticide story. On August 18, The New York Times published a story detailing how the EPA disregarded the advice of agency scientists by refusing to ban a harmful pesticide after Pruitt met with farming industry executives and told them he was listening to their pleas. Three days later, the EPA issued a press release attacking the story and accusing the reporters, Eric Lipton and Roni Caryn Rabin, of reporting "false facts" and omitting "inconvenient facts." Though the EPA did not dispute any of the story’s specific factual claims, the press release also stated that "the New York Times never lets the truth get in the way of a good story."

    EPA attacked AP reporter in press release over toxic-site story. On September 2, The Associated Press published a story on toxic sites flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which Washington Post media critic Eric Wemple later declared to be "factually sound." But the EPA issued a press release criticizing the story and attacking the credibility of the AP and Michael Biesecker, one of the reporters who wrote it. "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story," the agency’s release read. The press release also included a statement from EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman that accused the AP of attempting to “mislead Americans” by “cherry-picking facts.” To bolster its attack on Biesecker and the AP, the release cited a Breitbart News article. 

    EPA dropped AP reporter from its email list and criticized him for not opening positive emails about Pruitt. The EPA had been unhappy with AP reporter Biesecker even before he published his story about toxic site flooding after Harvey. When The Washington Post's Wemple asked the EPA about its ongoing conflict with Biesecker, an agency official said that the EPA had removed Biesecker from its master email list, explaining, “We don’t think he’s a trustworthy reporter.” An EPA official also told the Post that the agency monitored which journalists opened its emailed press releases: “We are able to see who opens our emails,” the official said. “Michael [Biesecker] very rarely opens a positive story about [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt. He only opens stories where he tries to create problems.”

    EPA warned employees against leaking to the press. The EPA required employees to attend training sessions that warned them of the dangers of leaking sensitive information to the media, The Associated Press reported. During the mandatory training, employees were given a fact sheet that detailed how leaks have harmed America in the past and warned, "Enemies of the United States are relentless in their pursuit of information which they can exploit to harm US interests."

    EPA spokesperson misled NY Times reporter. In a talk at Yale, New York Times climate reporter Lisa Friedman recounted an instance in October when an EPA spokesperson gave her inaccurate information. Per the Yale Daily News, Friedman "said a spokesman for the EPA disputed the claim that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt planned to announce the decision [to roll back the Clean Power Plan] in Kentucky with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The spokesman told her that 'it was not accurate' to say that Pruitt was going to make such an announcement.” Friedman then told the audience, “Except for it was absolutely accurate, and Fox News was invited.” Friedman also said, “Covering the EPA is like covering the CIA. It is so secretive. It is so difficult even to get basic information.”

    EPA accused NY Times reporter of being “biased” and “writing elitist click bait.” When Times reporter Lipton sent detailed questions to the EPA about the agency loosening regulations on toxic chemicals, EPA spokesperson Bowman refused to answer his queries. Instead, she sent a caustic comment by email: “No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece. The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist click bait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.” Lipton quoted her comment in his article.

    EPA refused to confirm basic facts to NY Times reporter, then accused him of stealing from other news outlets. The Washington Post's Wemple reported further details on Lipton's back-and-forth with the EPA about his story on toxic chemical regulations. Lipton asked EPA spokesperson Bowman to confirm reports that Michael Dourson, Trump's nominee to head the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, began working at the EPA before being confirmed by the Senate. Bowman referred Lipton to stories published by USA Today and E&E News, which Lipton took as confirmation. Then EPA spokesperson Wilcox jumped into email chain, interjecting, “If you want to steal work from other outlets and pretend like it’s your own reporting that is your decision.” After Lipton explained to both spokespersons that basic fact-checking is critical to avoiding “Fake News,” Wilcox, ccing USA Today’s and E&E News’ reporters, replied to Lipton, “Adding the two outlets who you want to steal their work from to this email.”

    EPA had police remove reporter from Pruitt event in Iowa. Ethan Stoetzer, a journalist with InsideSources Iowa, never received a response after trying repeatedly to contact the EPA to RSVP for a December 1 event where Pruitt would be speaking at a cattle company headquarters in Iowa. The event was invite-only, but media were permitted to attend. According to his reporting, Stoetzer showed up to the event site and was initially allowed to enter the press booth. But then he “was approached by a Story County Sheriff’s Deputy, as well as several staff members of both the EPA and Couser Cattle Company, who did not give their names when asked, and was told that he had to leave the premises.” He reported that other members of the media who had not RSVP’d were allowed to remain at the event. EPA spokesperson Wilcox did not reply to repeated questions about why Stoetzer was forced off the premises.

    EPA hired Republican opposition-research firm to conduct "war room"-style media monitoring. The EPA awarded a no-bid contract worth $120,000 to an opposition-research firm, Definers Corp, that not only has deep connections to the Republican establishment, but is also tied to a research group that had been “looking for information that could undermine employees who had criticized the E.P.A.,” as The New York Times reported. Under the contract, Definers would provide the EPA with “‘war room’-style media monitoring, analysis, and advice," Mother Jones reported. The controversial contract was rescinded after media reports led to political outcry.

    EPA misled press about Pruitt's travel, then stonewalled. After journalists reported in February 2018 on Pruitt’s exorbitant travel expenses, EPA Node Menu spokesperson Wilcox initially told Politico that Pruitt had received a blanket waiver to travel first or business class. But a spokesperson for the General Services Administration, which oversees rules about officials' travel, told Politico that it does not issue blanket waivers. Wilcox then changed his story and said that Pruitt submits a request for a waiver for each trip. Refusing to answer further questions about Pruitt’s travel, Wilcox directed reporters to use FOIA to request additional information, "a process that can take months or years," Politico noted.

    EPA to reporters: You'll have to wait a year for responses to your FOIA requests. The EPA has been slow in responding to FOIA requests about Pruitt's office from media organizations and other groups, according to an analysis by the Project on Government Oversight. The agency had closed only about 17 percent of records requests related to Pruitt’s activities as of February, Politico reported. This aligns with the anecdotal stories of journalists who, when not ignored by the EPA, were informed that it would take a year to receive responses to their records requests. CNBC reported in February on a lawsuit filed against EPA alleging the agency "has systematically refused to document 'essential activities' under Pruitt, and higher-ups are creating a culture in which career employees are discouraged from creating written records."

    EPA tried to prevent news outlets from covering Pruitt’s announcement of vehicle efficiency rollbacks. After granting Fox News permission to cover Pruitt’s announcement that the agency would be revising Obama-era vehicle emissions and mileage standards, EPA officials tried to stop other television networks from reporting on the event. As CNN reported on April 3, “EPA had attempted to allow television camera access to Fox News without informing the other four networks: CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS. Fox alerted the networks and a pool was established allowing networks equal access to the event.” EPA public affairs officials also made little effort to inform other journalists about the event. According to CNN, “There were several journalists [at the event], including from The New York Times, Bloomberg and ABC News, according to one reporter in attendance, who added that it sounded like many of the reporters were notified of the event individually just before it took place and ran over. EPA did not send a wide notice of the event to the agency press list.”

    Pruitt has used multiple email addresses, which could hamper fulfillment of FOIA requests by media outlets and others. After learning that Pruitt uses three secret EPA email addresses in addition to his official email address, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Carper (D-DE) asked the EPA’s inspector general on April 10 to investigate if Pruitt “may be withholding information from the public in violation of valid FOIA requests.” On May 2, the inspector general said his office plans to open an investigation into whether the EPA is violating the Federal Records Act.

    EPA press office engaged in “questionable activities” that may have violated federal rules, Sierra Club alleged in a lawsuit. Via a Twitter thread posted on April 20, Sierra Club attorney Elena Saxonhouse announced that her group had sued the EPA for failing to provide public records related to the activities of the agency’s Office of Public Affairs. Saxonhouse alleged that the office had engaged in a number of “questionable activities,” which included “creating a right-wing media echo chamber for Pruitt,” “contracting with a firm whose stated goal is to take down Democrats,” and reportedly working to secretly place anti-Paris climate accord op-eds in newspapers, among other things. Sierra Club requested the records to determine if these actions violated rules barring the use of agency money for "self-aggrandizement," "purely partisan" communications, and "covert propaganda." The EPA was recently forced to turn over more than 24,000 pages of documents to the Sierra Club after losing a previous FOIA lawsuit to the organization.

    Pruitt aides have slowed FOIA releases so they can increase vetting of records requests related to his actions. “Top aides to Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency are screening public records requests related to the embattled administrator, slowing the flow of information released under the Freedom of Information Act — at times beyond what the law allows,” Politico reported on May 6. Based on internal emails obtained by the outlet, the EPA’s political appointees also reprimanded career officials who released public records without letting Pruitt’s aides screen them first. Although other administrations have also requested that political aides be allowed to screen certain releases before they are made public, a FOIA expert quoted by Politico said, “This does look like the most burdensome review process that I've seen documented."

    EPA blocked AP, CNN, E&E News, and Politico from attending a summit on water contaminants and had an AP reporter physically removed from the building. “The Environmental Protection Agency temporarily barred journalists and the public from a national summit Tuesday addressing toxic chemicals contamination in drinking water, a week after top agency officials' effort to delay publication of a study on those chemicals came to light,” Politico reported on May 22. When an AP reporter asked to speak with public affairs personnel to learn why the outlet was barred from the event, “the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building,” AP reported. Although the EPA relented after news of the incident spread and allowed the press to cover the second half of the event on May 22, the agency still blocked reporters from covering the subsequent day of the summit on May 23.

  • 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.

  • The 5 worst takes from coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.

  • It's not just Masterpiece Cakeshop: Alliance Defending Freedom is attacking nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On December 5, anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will argue before the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case on behalf of a baker who refused to serve a gay couple. ADF is a highly influential, right-wing legal group that has worked to impact policy at the local, state, national, and international level, from working to ban transgender students from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity to helping write and defend the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBTQ state law in Mississippi.

  • Politico fails to disclose conflicts of interest in article attacking Democrats for protecting consumers

    A strong, independent CFPB was created to rein in a predatory financial industry, not cater to political whims

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A recent article in Politico blamed Democrats for the ongoing Republican campaign to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), misleadingly alleging that “Democrats are facing the consequences of their decision to protect the agency’s powerful independent director,” without disclosing the conflicts of interest of the experts it cited in support of such a view.

    Such a commission structure at CFPB has long been a goal of financial industry lobbyists and some Republicans seeking to roll back consumer protections put in place by the Dodd-Frank Act, because it would make the agency less responsive to predatory practices targeting Americans, delaying its decision-making and ability to protect consumers.

    In the November 27 article, Politico's financial services reporter claimed the succession crisis at the CFPB created by the recent resignation of long-time Director Richard Cordray “highlights how Democrats” are responsible for “the turmoil” because they rebuked GOP overtures that would have weakened the agency at its inception. From the article:

    But while the process plays out in court, the turmoil highlights how Democrats shunned Republican efforts to broaden the governance of the fledgling agency from a single appointed director to a bipartisan commission that would have included members with diverse political viewpoints.

    [...]

    In truth, the bureau has been mired in controversy since its creation. Warren has built a political career railing against Wall Street. Cordray infuriated industry and inspired lawsuits. And the bureau itself is unique, investing great power in one person with almost no accountability.

    It was predictable that such a toxic mix would eventually explode. Now Democrats are facing the consequences of their decision to protect the agency’s powerful independent director. Anybody Trump nominates to replace Cordray will have the ability to undo a lot of his work. On Monday, Mulvaney wasted no time, imposing a regulatory and hiring freeze.

    This analysis mirrors misleading arguments made by the conservative Washington Examiner and the right-wing blog RedState, which both seemed to revel in the supposed reckoning Democrats brought on themselves. In the midst of these ongoing media attacks, the Republican-controlled Congress has already moved to weaken the CFPB, a fact never mentioned in the Politico piece.

    The Politico article also echoes financial industry talking points in favor of implementing a commission structure at CFPB, going so far as to rely on a quote from Richard Hunt, the president of the Consumer Bankers Association, without pointing out he has spent years demanding the agency be turned into a weaker bipartisan commission. Indeed, more than a dozen financial and real estate lobbying arms, including the Consumer Bankers Association, wrote to Congress in June asking that the Republican-controlled House and Senate move to reshape the CFPB’s governance structure.

    But the very reason the CFPB avoided a similar commission when the agency was created was because in the aftermath of the financial devastation of the Great Recession (unleashed in part by underregulated financial industry actors), the decision was made to avoid a weakened commission that would be susceptible to just this sort of political pressure, or the type of partisan paralysis that has afflicted similar bipartisan efforts.

    Making matters worse, the only Democrat featured prominently in the article has voiced opposition to CFPB consumer protections in the past, and works at a law firm that proudly boasts of its experience fighting the agency on behalf of “bank and non-bank consumer financial services providers.” Politico’s failure to disclose this clear conflict of interest is the kind of oversight one might expect from Fox News.

    This is not the first time Politico has targeted the CFPB. A piece attacked the consumer advocacy agency in November 2015 after it used research from a consumer advocacy group while drafting new rules aimed at ending racial biases in auto lending. The 2015 criticism followed a salvo from the right-wing editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, which slammed the CFPB for daring to stand up against racially biased lending practices.

    Conservative politicians and media outlets have routinely pilloried the CFPB since its inception, sometimes inventing reasons to smear the agency. Some antagonists have even attacked the CFPB for paying its employees competitive salaries, falsely claiming along the way that the agency is misusing tax dollars (it’s actually funded by the Federal Reserve).

  • House Republicans target Bob Mueller, FBI with Fox News’ Uranium One smear

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Taking their cues from Fox News host Sean Hannity, three Republican congressmen introduced a resolution in the House demanding special counsel Robert Mueller step down from his role of investigating possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and agents of the Russian government.

    On November 3, Politico reported that Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) introduced a measure that “while nonbinding, would put the House on record as describing Mueller … as unfit” to lead the Trump-Russia investigation, “because of his relationship” with former FBI Director James Comey, and his handling of an FBI investigation in 2010 when he was the head of the bureau. The representatives claimed that Mueller and the FBI are compromised because of their supposed neglect to adequately investigate “a seven-year-old sale of uranium production facilities to Russian interests,” according to Politico, which right-wing media falsely believe was inappropriately approved by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

    “[B]e it Resolved, That House of Representatives expresses its sense that Robert Mueller is compromised and should resign from his special counsel position immediately,” the resolution states.

    [...]

    Mueller, they note, was presiding over the FBI at the time the agency was investigating a Russian bribery and extortion scheme connected to the uranium deal, but the agency declined to notify Congress of its investigation and prevented a confidential informant from notifying lawmakers.

    “Any thorough and honest investigation into the corruption of American-uranium related business must include investigating the willful blindness of the FBI and its leaders,” according to the resolution.

    The demand for Mueller’s resignation from lawmakers in Congress comes after months of attacks leveled by pro-Trump media. But their conspiratorial focus on Mueller’s supposed involvement in a uranium deal reveals the extent to which many Republicans may be taking their cue from Fox News, particularly Sean Hannity.

    Just three weeks ago, right-wing journalist John Solomon authored a flimsy article in The Hill, which revived the debunked Uranium One conspiracy theory. Hannity rushed to amplify the story, claiming the real collusion was between Clinton and Russia while impugning Mueller’s character. As recently as October 24, Hannity encouraged Congress to call on Mueller to testify about his “past role” in the Uranium One story, adding “there’s no way the American people can trust Robert Mueller to investigate anything Russia related, to be fair and impartial, it’s impossible because of his past role in this. He should resign immediately, tonight.” In a November 1 tirade, Hannity hyped “massive conflicts of interest coming from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team” calling them “beyond shocking” and “beyond disturbing.” Hannity alleged that the special counsel investigation “has become a partisan witch hunt that is now rotten to the core” before attempting to tie Mueller to the alleged uranium plot. Hannity also suggested that Mueller might have an ax to grind with Trump after not being chosen to replace Comey at the FBI.

    Fox News has became fully invested in stoking the conspiracy theory, despite the fact that none of the right-wing talking points about it are true -- and they are embarrassingly easy to fact check. Rep. Biggs himself appeared on the October 28 edition of Fox News’ America’s News HQ and falsely suggested Mueller had “a conflict of interest” in investigating Trump because “he’s tied back to the original Uranium One scandal.”

    The recent right-wing hysteria around Uranium One is peculiar given that it first gained public attention in April 2015 with the publication of Republican opposition researcher Peter Schweizer’s deeply flawed anti-Clinton oppo dump. Schweizer falsely alleged that Clinton used her position to promote the sale of American uranium assets to state-owned Russian entities in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. Those allegations were quickly debunked after reporters began reviewing the sale (hint: Clinton played virtually no role) and Schweizer was later forced to admit part of his argument was a lie. But Fox News never gave it up. Indeed, just last night, Hannity told Schweizer that he was proud to have hosted the first interview for Schweizer’s discredited book while boasting about his constant recent coverage of the Uranium One story.

    Previously, Fox hosts and guests have baselessly accused Mueller of leaking damaging information about the Trump-Russia inquiry to the press in hopes of building up the public’s distrust in him. Now, in the wake of key members of the Trump campaign team getting indicted, Trump’s conservative media sycophants seem to hope that the bogus Uranium One conspiracy theory will succeed in derailing Mueller’s efforts.

  • Fox’s Shannon Bream has a new show and a history of spreading misinformation about abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On October 30, Fox News’ Shannon Bream debuted the evening program Fox News @ Night. The show was new, but one thing stayed the same: Bream’s commitment to misinforming about abortion.

    As Mic noted, Bream’s program represents a “departure from a longtime tradition” of playing reruns of other “popular primetime shows” during the 11 p.m. hour. Bream herself has attempted to brand her program as “straight news, not opinion” and claimed the program “will be straight down the middle.” In reality, Bream has a long history of presenting misleading reporting about a number of reproductive rights topics -- and if the first episode of Fox News @ Night is any indication, having her own program won’t change anything. 

    For example, long after the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood were discredited, Bream gave CMP founder David Daleiden an unchallenged platform to push misinformation. Before that, Bream had played frequent validator for CMP’s claims -- going so far as to anchor a Fox News special on its content, titled Planned Parenthood: The Hidden Harvest. Beyond her emphasis on CMP’s inaccurate contentions, Bream also has a tendency to cite polls commissioned by anti-choice groups to suggest a lack of public support for abortion access. 

    In back-to-back segments during the October 30 edition, Bream also hosted NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to discuss a recent case involving the Trump administration’s denial of an abortion to an undocumented minor being held in federal custody. According to BuzzFeed, the minor (referred to as Jane Doe) did not ask for “the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation” -- in fact, as Politico reported, she had already “obtained the money” for the procedure. Nevertheless, Fox News’ coverage of the case has focused on a made-up idea that taxpayers should be outraged about the possibility of funding abortions for undocumented immigrants like Doe -- an offshoot of the debunked, but oft-repeated, right-wing myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded abortion.” (In fact, no taxpayer money may go to abortions under the Hyde Amendment.)

    During the first segment, Bream not only pressed Hogue on a series of anti-choice talking points about the case (including the myth of taxpayer-funded abortion), but also directly channeled the concerns of anti-abortion groups. In one instance, after Hogue noted that opponents of Doe’s abortion want to “put Roe [v. Wade] on trial through this case,” Bream interjected that what she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups is they were worried this is Roe v. Wade 2.0.” Bream continued that these anti-abortion groups were concerned that Doe’s case was “not just about abortion, but it’s now encouraging -- they think -- in some ways, people coming here from other countries where maybe they can’t get an abortion.”

    Bream’s comment about having “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” is unsurprising. In but one example, the afternoon before Bream’s program debuted, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, tweeted that Bream is a “friend” and that she “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.”

    The Fox prime-time lineup has seen a lot of change over the past year. Following the ouster of Bill O’Reilly for numerous reports of sexual harassment (and more recent news of further settlements still), the network was forced to make changes to its evening talent. As a result, white nationalist golden boy and serial anti-abortion misinformer Tucker Carlson scored a prime-time spot -- a platform he has used to host anti-abortion activists and present their allegations in a way that appeals to his extremist base. In September, after Fox was forced to fire prime-time host Eric Bolling (again for reports of sexual harassment), the network announced Fox News @ Night, hosted by Bream at 11 p.m., and another program, The Ingraham Angle, hosted by longtime contributor Laura Ingraham (who has her own history of spreading misinformation about abortion).

    As Variety reported, Fox executives are hopeful that the addition of Ingraham and Bream will finally “cap a flurry of schedule changes” that audiences have endured over the past year. And although Bream has pitched her show as one that “will focus heavily on politics and events in Washington” -- a choice that one media professor told Variety will offer viewers “news, not more punditry” -- audiences shouldn’t be fooled.

    If the chyron previewing the abortion-related segment during the October 30 premier is any indication, Bream’s coverage of reproductive rights topics will be more of the same Fox News xenophobia and bluster: