Scott Pruitt in Washington on Jan. 18, 2017. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Media critic

Michael Biesecker is an investigative reporter for the Associated Press. But to Jahan Wilcox, the pointlessly combative spokesman who works under Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, he’s something else altogether: an “anti-Trump reporter.”

An odd allegation, to be sure, to unleash against someone who focuses on the environment, clean energy and the like. Biesecker, after all, doesn’t dwell in the White House briefing room, hammering Trump emissaries with question after question. He prefers Superfund sites. It was Biesecker and a colleague, for instance, who scrutinized whether the EPA was forcefully responding to flooded toxic sites around Houston — long a petrochemical hub — in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The original headline: “AP EXCLUSIVE: Toxic waste sites flooded, EPA not on scene.”

The EPA responded with a news release that also released an ad hominem attack: “Yesterday, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker wrote an incredibly misleading story about toxic land sites that are under water,” it read, in part. The EPA also scrapped with Biesecker a year ago over Pruitt and the CEO of Dow Chemical.

A great number of stories about Pruitt’s travel expenses, ethics, expenditures, housing, use of staff and other matters have since spun out of the presses, helping to launch a dozen federal probes of the administrator’s actions. Last weekend, Biesecker tugged on a strand of that accountability reporting, asking some questions about expenses for Pruitt’s trip to Kiawah Island, S.C., in November 2017 for a meeting of the American Chemistry Council. The exchange got testy.

In one of his emails — obtained by the Erik Wemple Blog — Wilcox told Biesecker:

Michael –

If you read the email, I said you are an anti-Trump reporter, not the questions. Folks know you are a dishonest reporter and it could be why the Associated Press moves you from beat to beat.

In the past five months, we have done extensive interviews with the New York Times, CBS News, Bloomberg, Reuters and other outlets in Washington.

Here is our statement:

“Administrator Pruitt did not spend the night at the American Chemistry Council’s conference. His outbound flight left on November 9, 2017 at 5:20 AM and his return flight departed on November 9, 2017 at 12:00 PM.”


Ted Bridis, editor of AP’s Washington-based investigative team, brushed back Wilcox:

Thank you for answering our inquiry factually, Jahan, but the continuing digs are unnecessary and unprofessional behavior from a civil servant.

For the record, AP hasn’t moved Michael off covering EPA, nor do we intend to, and we dispute that Michael (or our questions) are anti-Trump.

Wilcox didn’t respond to emails seeking comment on his criticisms of Biesecker. A call to his work cellphone went unanswered, and the mailbox was full. The AP ended up not publishing a story based on Biesecker’s inquiries to Wilcox about the South Carolina travel. For more information on Biesecker’s beat, consult his LinkedIn page, which notes that he is a member of “AP’s Washington-based investigative team. Also covering environmental enforcement and policy, along with the human impacts of climate change.” A Nexis review of his bylines over the past six months reveals a steady focus on the work of Pruitt — and the various controversies that he has generated — with occasional detours for breaking-news events and some coverage of the Interior Department.

All of which is to say that Biesecker is doing what reporters have been doing in Washington forever: monitoring the use of taxpayer dollars at pivotal federal agencies. Under a world-champion narcissist incapable of countenancing criticism, this time-tested and necessary work becomes “anti-Trump.” Looking on the bright side, that’s more respectful than calling a reporter a “piece of trash.”