The Washington Post's Hugh Hewitt problem
Hewitt’s firm represents “clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency”
The Washington Post repeatedly allowed Hugh Hewitt to write columns praising Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt without disclosing that Hewitt’s law firm does work before the agency. Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt told Media Matters that Hewitt would no longer write about Pruitt.
Hewitt is a conservative radio host who also works as a host for MSNBC and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. Off air, he is a partner at the law firm Larson O’Brien.
That law firm position presents numerous potential and real conflicts of interest for Hewitt’s media roles. Larson O’Brien stated in a May 5, 2017, press release that the firm will be opening a Washington D.C. office and “is currently representing clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.” The press release touted Hewitt’s relocation to the Washington area as a reason for the firm to “have a permanent presence in the District”:
Larson O’Brien is currently representing clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Larson O’Brien partner Hugh Hewitt recently relocated to the Washington area where he hosts an award winning radio show during the morning drive-time hours. “With Hugh moving to Washington and our significant client work in the Capital, it made sense for us to have a permanent presence in the District,” said Stephen Larson.
Politico reported on May 7 that Hewitt brokered a meeting between Pruitt and lawyers at Larson O’Brien concerning efforts of the firm’s client Orange County Water District to get the EPA to devote resources to cleaning up a polluted site in the district. From the report, which is based on “emails released by EPA under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club”:
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.
Politico noted that Hewitt has been a vocal defender of Pruitt on MSNBC. Several journalists have criticized MSNBC for the blatant conflict of interest; The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro tweeted: “Um, it's not okay for a cable news contributor to ask the EPA administrator for favors like this and still be on TV talking about him. At. All. CC: @MSNBC.”
Hewitt’s conflict of interest problem has also extended to The Washington Post, which repeatedly allowed Hewitt to praise the EPA and Pruitt in opinion columns for the paper.
Hewitt himself referenced his work on issues related to the EPA in the Post. On January 4, 2017, he wrote: “I’ve worked for real estate developers on huge projects for three decades. My law practice was built on helping them figure out and comply with complex statutory and regulatory regimes and knowing how the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked.”
The following are instances in which the Post allowed Hewitt to discuss the EPA without disclosing his conflict of interest:
- On January 19, 2017, Hewitt praised President Donald Trump’s nomination of Pruitt, writing, “Discount the rhetoric. ... Pruitt’s not a ‘climate denier.’”
- On March 1, 2017, Hewitt wrote: “Trump’s repeated calls in many places for regulatory reform had been foreshadowed earlier Tuesday with an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency and its new and very able director, Scott Pruitt, to move quickly to roll back the ruinous, overreaching ‘Waters of the United States’ rule of the Obama years.”
- On July 4, Hewitt wrote that Pruitt has become one of “the domestic policy stars of the Trump administration.”
- On August 19, Hewitt called Pruitt and several other Trump administration officials “committed reformers” who “are in strong and stable positions now as staffing of political appointees accelerates.”
- On September 19, Hewitt praised the Trump administration and Pruitt for “pursuing ambitious and much-needed rollback agendas.”
- On February 22, Hewitt wrote: “The United States is out of the one-sided Paris accord while open to steps toward genuine protection of the climate. The EPA is refining its rulemaking process in ways that rule-of-law conservatives hope will conform the agency’s new rules to the designs and ends Congress intended for them, reversing the warped power grabs of the administrative state they had become.”
The Post did not disclose that Hewitt’s firm works on issues related to EPA regulations in those pieces. The paper has also not been consistent in disclosing that Hewitt’s son works for the EPA. According to his LinkedIn page, James Hewitt joined the agency in July 2017. Hewitt's July 4 and September 19 columns disclosed that connection while his August 19 and February 22 columns did not.
In an email to Media Matters, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wrote: “I was disturbed to learn this morning that Hugh Hewitt had intervened with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on behalf of Hewitt’s law firm as he was writing about Pruitt in a column for The Washington Post. Hewitt, who has not written about Pruitt since September, has agreed not to write about him going forward and has assured us that similar incidents won’t occur in the future.”
The Washington Post also employs megalobbyist Ed Rogers as a contributor despite countless conflicts of interest relating to Roger’s lobbying firm. Over the years, the Post has repeatedly allowed Rogers to tout his clients’ interests without disclosure.