This year, the worldwide journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranked the United States 45th in the world for press freedom. This puts the “land of the free and the home of the brave” just behind Romania, a country still trying to claw its way to political sanity nearly 30 years after the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, and just ahead of Italy, which continues to flirt with politically resurgent kleptocrat Silvio “Bunga Bunga” Berlusconi.
This sad state of affairs for U.S. journalistic freedom could get far worse if the events of May 22 are the shape of things to come, and just weirdly enough to get the attention of Chicken-Fried News, that day’s conflict over press rights centered on two Oklahomans.
That morning, Associated Press reporter Ellen Knickmeyer, a former Tulsa World staffer who recently graduated from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, was stopped from entering an Environmental “Protection” Agency meeting on water supply contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) around military bases. The meeting was scheduled after Politico uncovered emails from January 2018 detailing the levels of PFAS across several states and how “the impact to EPA and DoD (Department of Defense) is going to be extremely painful” and “a public relations nightmare.”
When Knickmeyer asked to speak with a public affairs representative, EPA guards grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her out of the EPA headquarters building.
Knickmeyer was not the only reporter barred from entering the paranoia-scented halls of the EPA. Reporters from both CNN and E&E News, a trade publication that covers energy and environmental issues, were similarly kept from attending that morning. Later, after news broke of the incident, all three reporters were allowed into the meeting, reportedly without being tailed by E“P”A chief and CFN fave rave Scott Pruitt’s Droogs.
Of course, several other reporters were allowed into the event without problem, including those sent by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Politico, The Hill and The Daily Caller. Maybe it had something to do with Knickmeyer’s tireless coverage of Pruitt’s coziness with lobbyists offering him cheap lodging, his use of non-governmental email accounts, his lavish spending, his rollback of safety rules for chemical plants and his new legal defense fund.
What really galls CFN is that the following day, the E“P”A did it again, this time blocking Politico and independent journalist Mariah Blake, who has been extensively covering PFAS.
Now, Pruitt is likely following the lead of President Donald Trump in attempting to normalize this kind of thing. With the nation’s capacity for outrage shrinking by the day, there is a probable assumption that Knickmeyer and other barred journalists will just slink away and not force this issue.
However, CFN collectively believes that Knickmeyer, who reported for AP in Oklahoma City, worked in the Tulsa World newsroom, was raised in an Oklahoma journalism family and went on to become Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post, is made of tougher stuff than that. Hell, she was AP bureau chief in West Africa, a place where bullying strongmen can be found on every street.
In short, we think Knickmeyer will prove hard to shake and Pruitt should prepare for war, Oklahoma journalism-style.