National Press Club

National Press Club unveils plan for media summit after reporter roughed up at EPA meeting

May 22, 2018 | By Kathy Kiely | kkiely@press.org

The National Press Club and its Journalism Institute are renewing a call for dialogue between newsmakers and the news media following another incident in which officials of President Donald Trump’s administration manhandled a reporter in a public building.

Hours after one of its reporters was blocked from covering a summit on water contamination, along with representatives of several other news organizations, the Associated Press reported receiving an apology Tuesday from the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the AP's account, guards had barred the wire service's reporter from passing through a security checkpoint, and when the reporter asked to speak with EPA public affairs personnel, shoved her out of the building.

EPA officials insisted in public statements, including emails to the Press Club, that they were merely trying to manage an overcrowded room. But the Press Club expressed concern about the decision to limit coverage at an event featuring EPA chief Scott Pruitt to 10 invited reporters and questioned the way that limit was enforced.

"Pushing reporters around is what happens in dictatorships, not in a democracy where the press's right to represent the public is enshrined in the Constitution," said Andrea Snyder Edney, president of the National Press Club. "And why were reporters being kept out of a meeting of major news significance at which a senior official was speaking on the public record? This is unacceptable."

This is not the first time since the Trump administration came to office that reporters have been manhandled by security guards while trying to do their jobs. Last May, the Press Club protested when one of its members, CQ Roll Call reporter John Donnelly, was forcibly prevented from questioning members of the Federal Communications Commission and then kicked out of FCC headquarters.

"It should go without saying that the press must be able to cover public events convened by a taxpayer-funded government agency--but apparently it needs to be said these days," said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the club's not-for-profit arm. "It is bad enough to bar the press in this way, but to use force to enforce such a misguided dictate just compounds the mistake."

In response to earlier outbreaks of hostility towards the press, including the international headlines that erupted when a reporter was attacked by a congressional candidate, the Press Club's Journalism Institute last summer hosted "Can We Talk," a conversation between members of the press and leaders of the institutions they cover about how to lower the temperature.

Funding has since been secured for an expanded version of this event that will feature more in-depth, intimate conversations among invited participants . Plans will be underway this summer for a fall summit.

"The National Press Club has traditionally been a place where news reporters and newsmakers meet," said Cochran. "We can think of no better place to convene and work on ground rules that will enable all of us to do a better job for the public we all serve."

Founded in 1908, the National Press Club is the world's leading professional organization for journalists. The Club has more than 3,100 members worldwide representing nearly every major news organization and fights for press freedom worldwide.

Through its Press Freedom Committee and the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the Club speaks out in defense of press freedom and transparency worldwide.