Embattled Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt tried to keep most of the media out of his press conference today where he announced a relaxation of fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. In a stunning surprise, it was Fox News that stymied him.
Pruitt had originally planned to turn the press conference into a photo op at a Washington, D.C. area Chevrolet dealer. That was canceled after other local dealers said they didn’t want the brand associated with the rollback of gas mileage standards set during President Obama’s administration. New York Times climate and environment reporter Hiroko Tabuchi tweeted the news yesterday:
We hear Chevy dealers were livid that EPA’s Scott Pruitt planned to announce plans to roll back auto emissions standards tomorrow at a Chevy dealership in VA. They just don’t want to be associated with that decision. Now the VA dealer tells us the event is cancelled.
— Hiroko Tabuchi (@HirokoTabuchi) April 3, 2018
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The announcement was relocated to EPA Headquarters, but unlike previous announcement no indication was made to print or electronic media that the change had occurred. Admission was by invitation only, as reported by BuzzFeed energy and climate reporter Zahra Hirji:
EPA announces 10:30 am event on its car decision in a 10:33 am tweet. Also, I did not get a press release about this event. https://t.co/eF9k70GwYy
— Zahra Hirji (@Zhirji28) April 3, 2018
At the last minute, calls went out to a handful of outlets that Pruitt would be headlining the announcement.
Eventually, reporters from the New York Times, Bloomberg and ABC News were allowed to attend (without cameras) but those from BuzzFeed, The Hill, and many others were excluded.
When the time came, Pruitt’s gatekeepers invited Fox News to be the only electronic outlet to cover the story, excluding other major networks like CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC.
It was then Fox News stepped up and notified its major competitors what was happening and said it would make its audio and video available to all as a pool feed, so the other news organizations would not be cut out completely.
Auto industry reps and Pruitt spoke but did not take any questions, including questions hurled at him by ABC News as he rushed out the door.
Pruitt is under additional scrutiny about his spending on airline flights for multiple trips in 2017 as well as his use of a condo at an under-market price that belonged to a family member of a lobbyist who recently received a favor from the organization he heads.
Attorneys General in roughly a dozen states have already sued or announced plans to sue the EPA, hoping to prevent the rollbacks. It should be noted that Pruitt’s move was prompted by auto companies concerned that cleaner cars will cost more to produce and hurt their sales.
As of this morning, Trump has announced support for Pruitt, who has been under fire from environmentalists and concerned citizens for months. Trump seems more interested in the EPA’s willingness to join his attacks on the free press than anything as pointed out by right-wing watchdogs Media Matters for America:
“Pruitt’s EPA has a history of blocking reporters from events as well as dropping them from press release distribution lists… Journalists have been escorted out of Pruitt events by police. [The EPA] repeatedly refused to give reporters basic information about the agency’s staffing and activities.”
Sounds like the perfect compliment to Trump’s constant chorus against “fake news.”