The Environmental Protection Agency, long a bête noire for various industries because of its allegedly heavy-handed regulation, is now turning its sights on an unexpected new target: journalists.
Having apparently taken a page from President Trump’s playbook, in particular the chapter devoted to histrionic personal abuse, last week the EPA unleashed a torrent of invective against an Associated Press reporter for a story that it claims was needlessly alarmist, though technically accurate.
The famously quick-tempered federal agency was moved to anger by an article by AP reporters Michael Biesecker and Jason Dearen, with additional contributions by Jay Reeves. Together, they reported the agency’s operatives had so far been unable to check on the status of a number of toxic waste storage sites in Texas, following Hurricane Harvey.
That raised the possibility of contamination as a result of the historic disaster.
The story was, for the most part, unremarkable, and any implied criticism of the agency was fairly mild. After all, some of the storage facilities were still underwater, undoubtedly making it difficult for EPA personnel to visit safely. The article also noted that EPA personnel were expected to visit the sites shortly.
However, the EPA clearly viewed the report in a more ominous light, taking it as a personal (or rather administrational) affront, as reflected in its searing response.
In an official statement, the EPA singled out Biesecker by name: “Yesterday, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker wrote an incredibly misleading story about toxic land sites that are under water. Despite reporting from the comfort of Washington, Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Not only is this inaccurate, but it creates panic and politicizes the hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area.”
An EPA administrator further stated: “Once again, in an attempt to mislead Americans, the Associated Press is cherry-picking facts, as EPA is monitoring Superfund sites around Houston, and we have a team of experts on the ground working with our state and local counterparts responding to Hurricane Harvey. Anything to the contrary is yellow journalism.”
In lambasting Biesecker, the EPA failed to note that the article also featured reporting by Dearen, who was in Texas — as indicated by the article, which noted that AP reporters had visited one of the sites by boat and another by car.
Indeed, articles co-authored by reporters in different parts of the country are actually fairly common, especially when the subject is the federal government, typically with one team member covering the Washington end and the other “in the field.”
The AP rebutted the EPA’s rebuttal with a statement of its own: “AP’s exclusive story was the result of on-the-ground reporting at Superfund sites in and around Houston, as well as AP’s strong knowledge of these sites and EPA practices. We object to the EPA’s attempts to discredit that reporting by suggesting it was completed solely from ‘the comforts of Washington’ and stand by the work of both journalists who jointly reported and wrote the story.”
Next up: the Fish and Wildlife Service brutalizes ‘Bassmaster’ for its irresponsibly alarmist article, “Never trust smallmouth”!