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On the Importance of Protecting the Free Press Environment

Back in our newspaper days we were often forcibly kicked out of various places for being a reporter. Sometimes it was at fringe group rallies, other times it was at ghetto crime scenes we’d arrived at after the cops had split, and on one memorable occasion it was at a “gay rodeo” that apparently had gotten some previous bad press from more homophobic reporters than ourselves. Until the age of President Donald Trump, though, we’d never heard of a reporter being evicted from a governmental agency’s public meetings.
That actually happened to three reporters on Tuesday, as they attempted to cover the Environmental Protection Agency’s meeting with industry and regulatory officials on the rather dry subject of water contamination. A reporter for the Cable News Network was barred from the event, as was a reporter for an environmental internet publication called E&E News, and a reporter from the Associated Press was literally shoved out of the building.
The administration’s official explanation for the expulsions is that there just wasn’t enough room to accommodate everybody who wanted in, now matter how impeccable their press credentials, but all the reporters who did somehow get through the door attest that there were far more than three empty seats. The only plausible explanation is that the Trump administration is growing even bolder in its bullying of the free press.
Which is worrisome to our free speech sensibilities, as Trump has been a bully boy toward the press all along. During his surprisingly successful campaign for the presidency Trump promised that he would “open up the libel laws” so that he could sue any reporter reporting embarrassing news and “make lots of money.” During every campaign rally he led his followers in menacing chants against the nervously penned-up reporters in their midst, and forbade certain news outlets from access to to his campaign. As president he’s described the adversarial press not only as “fake news” but also by the Stalin-esque phrase “enemies of the people,” leaned on the Postmaster General to charge a few extra billion dollars to the Amazon e-commerce giant that happens to be run by the guy who also also owns troublesome Washington Post. He’s also “tweeted” about revoking the White House credentials of America’s most venerable news media, prosecuting reporters who report on leaked information, and groused that it’s a “disgrace” that the First Amendment allows a free press to “write whatever they want.”
Perhaps the only American who more resents a free press than Trump is EPA director Scott Pruitt, who has taken some Trump-level pillorying. Part of it is his because of his vigorous-even-by-Trump-standards deregulating, which our old-fashioned Republican souls are mostly but not altogether approving of, but it’s also because of “fake news” but all-too-verifiable reports about the sweetheart condo deal he got from some companies he was supposed to be regulating and his exorbitant spending of taxpayer dollars on air travel and such weird things as the “cone of silence” from the old “Get Smart” comedy, which our old-fashioned Republican souls cannot abide.
Pruitt has also reportedly used the cops’ flashing lights and sirens to get him to unofficial dinner reservations on time, and he strikes us as exactly the sort of guy who would use figuratively and literally rough even-by-Trump-standards tactics to get even for all those verifiable stories. This troubles our old-fashioned Republican souls, and after too many years of daily reporting it outrages our journalistic sensibilities.

— Bud Norman

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