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Opinion ‘They were doing a stellar job’: Tom Price praises police who arrested journalist in West Virginia

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, center. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
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Radio host Hugh Hewitt tried his best. Speaking up for his “tribe” in an interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Hewitt gave the Trump appointee every opportunity to denounce the arrest of a reporter — Dan Heyman of the Public News Service — who was directing questions at him and Trump aide Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday as a scrum moved down a hallway at the West Virginia state Capitol.

Heyman was arrested by the West Virginia Division of Protective Services (Capitol Police) on a misdemeanor charge of “willful disruption of governmental processes” after failing to get a response to his question as to whether domestic violence would qualify as a preexisting condition under the Trump-backed American Health Care Act, which was recently passed by the House.

“Do you think the charges should be dropped against Mr. Heyman?” asked Hewitt of Price.

Price: “Well, I’ll leave that to the local authorities. Look, this fellow, we were walking into the state Capitol, and a fellow was yelling at us, which is not necessarily unusual from the press. But I turned the corner to head on into the round table, and something happened afterwards. So I’d leave that to the authorities there.”

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By all accounts, that something wasn’t much of anything. “It was his physical action and not that he was asking questions, that crossed the line,” said Lawrence Messina, spokesman for West Virginia’s department of military affairs and public safety spokesman, according to a CNN account. The police report says that Heyman was “aggressively breaching” Secret Service agents, though Heyman told CNN he was just trying to get his recording device properly positioned, as reporters routinely do in legislative corridors from Washington to Washington state.

Heyman was jailed and subsequently released on $5,000 bond. Though the police insist that Heyman wasn’t arrested for his actions as a reporter, the complaint said that “the defendant was causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price,” as a Post editorial emphasized.

In his chat with Price, Hewitt noted that Heyman was a credentialed reporter; that reporters can be pushy “jerks”; and that even so, reporters shouldn’t be arrested as they go about their work. So he urged Price to “give a nudge” to the authorities to drop the matter and also asked whether the guy was being “menacing.”

Price: “Not when I was going through, but that, look, this is an issue for the West Virginia Capitol Police. They were doing a stellar job. Our detail was making certain that we were able to get to the round table and to the press conference. This wasn’t in the press conference, you know, Hugh. This was, this gentleman was not in the press conference.”

Then what right did this gentleman have to ask a question? Price’s apparent adaptation of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law guaranteeing the freedom of speech, or of the press, outside of press conferences.”

This episode counts as Strike 2 for Price in the book of the Erik Wemple Blog. Remember that during his confirmation hearing, Price was pressed as to why he’d said in 2012 that barring insurance companies from dissing people with preexisting conditions was a “terrible idea,” as Politico quoted him at the time. Instead of grappling with the issue, Price chose to smear Politico: “Oh well, now there’s a reliable source,” he said. “I don’t believe I ever made that statement.”

Given the persistent media-bashing by Price’s boss, there’s just no upside in sticking up for any reporter, ever.