Accuracy in Media

On Tuesday, one could scroll the entirety of the Washington Post’s web page and not find a story that essentially acquitted EPA of some of the most serious accusations of excess the media has labeled against him over the past year.

The story, buried on page A8 of the print edition with a small headline and no photo, reported on a memo sent by the head of Pruitt’s security detail that requested the administrator be seated in first class or business class on official trips because of potential dangers to his life.

Even then, the Post seemed to openly quarrel with the idea on its news pages.

“The memo is just 87 words,” the piece by Brady Dennis and longtime environmental writer Juliet Eilperin began. “But in that single paragraph, dated May 1, 2017, the head of Scott Pruitt’s personal security detail made the argument that would underpin dozens of taxpayer-funded, first-class flights from the Environmental Protection Agency administrator in the months that followed.”

The subject of the memo reads, “Business/First Class Travel When Protecting the EPA Administrator,” and the text reads:

“We are requesting that the EPA Administrator be strategically seated in business and or first class seating when on official travel. We have observed an increased awareness and at times lashing out from passengers which occurs while the Administrator is seated in coach with PSD (personal security detail) not easily accessible to him due to uncontrolled full flights. Therefore, we believe that the continued use of coach seats for the Administrator would endanger his life and therefore respectfully ask that he be placed in either business and or first class accommodations.”

This set off a wave of purchases of expensive plane tickets, the Post reported.

“Agency officials approved the request, and Pruitt soon began racking up hefty travel expenses,” the Post wrote. “A $7,003.52 ticket to Italy. A $16,217 flight to Morocco. A $1,641.43 first-class seat for the short flight from Washington to New York City for two television appearances.”

The Post took Pruitt to task for a two-day period in July in which he spent $4,443 on separate round-trips to Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta on official business. It did not compare the costs if he had stayed with his security detail in either city overnight.

NBC News took another angle, citing documents that described meetings and travel the administrator has had.

Pruitt ate at an expensive restaurant on an official visit to Italy, along with two top staffers and, unstated in the NBC story, dignitaries from other nations.

It also suggests something untoward about a request for the administrator to speak to a friendly group.

“The documents suggest that Pruitt’s old Oklahoma political connections still have his ear and curry favor,” the NBC story reported. “In a May 2017 email exchange, former Pruitt fundraiser Tamara Cornell asks the EPA administrator to address the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate-change-denying organization.”

Not traveling also got Pruitt in trouble with the media.

On at least four occasions Pruitt held “planned meetings with energy company representatives at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which is located near EPA headquarters,” NBC reported.

A former staffer, Kevin Chmielewski, said he was fired for telling members of Congress that Pruitt ordered sirens used to speed through Washington traffic to make a dinner with a representative of a foreign government at Le Diplomate, even though Chmielewski told him that was inappropriate.

Chmielewski has since run into credibility problems of his own – the EPA said he was fired for going AWOL from work on numerous occasions, for criminal activity and for lavish spending on government-paid trips.

“One revelation included in the documents supports recent reporting about” the siren use, NBC reported. “In an October 2017 email exchange – as Pruitt’s executive scheduler Sydney Hupp trties to arrange a dinner for her boss and D.C. energy lobbyist Mike McKenna – Hupp replies, “Le Diplomate is his favorite.”

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