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Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was clearly taken aback last year when occasional Fox & Friends fill-in host Ed Henry grilled him about a number of ethical scandals facing his administration.
And Pruitt had a good reason to be surprised. In past interviews with President Trump’s favorite cable-news show, the then-EPA chief’s team chose the topics for interviews, and knew the questions in advance.
In one instance, according to emails revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Sierra Club and reviewed by The Daily Beast, Pruitt’s team even approved part of the show’s script.
Fox & Friends has long been a friendly venue for Trump and his allies, but the emails demonstrate how the show has pushed standard cable-news practices to the extreme in order to make interviews a comfortable, non-confrontational experience for favored government officials.
Cable-news veterans told The Daily Beast that it is common for television producers to discuss topics in advance with their subjects; and, on occasion, producers will ask pre-interview questions to understand what a subject has to offer, and why their information is relevant.
However, it is widely frowned upon to offer public officials pre-interviews, as this can help the official avoid difficult questions.
And providing and seeking approval scripts is even more of a taboo.
“Every American journalist knows that to provide scripts or articles to the government for review before publication or broadcast is a cardinal sin. It’s Journalism 101,” said David Hawkins, a CBS News and CNN veteran who teaches journalism at Fordham University. “This is worse than that. It would and should get you fired from any news organization with integrity.”
“I can’t imagine why a high-level newsmaker—like a White House official—would ever receive a formal pre-interview,” added Sid Bedingfield, a former CNN executive who now teaches journalism at the University of Minnesota.
“Those are designed to ensure that the interview subject has something relevant to add to the story—that it is worth spending time and resources to conduct the interview. A top White House official who has the power to shape public policy around a particular issue would obviously be relevant. In those interviews, the journalist should force the newsmaker to defend policy decisions, not help sell them.”
Pruitt resigned from the EPA this year after more than a dozen probes were launched into his handling of the agency. But before that, Pruitt’s team was set on getting him good press, and they focused much of their attention on securing interviews with Fox News.
In multiple interviews on Fox & Friends, Pruitt was essentially allowed to dictate the terms for the interview and avoid any difficult questions.
In May 2017, Pruitt’s staff wanted to set up an interview to discuss how the then-administrator was interested in helping communities his team claimed were “poorly served by the last administration.”
And so then-EPA press secretary Amy Graham proposed an interview to Fox & Friends producer Andrew Murray, who quickly agreed to bring Pruitt on the next day to discuss the topic.
Murray then copied producer Diana Aloi, saying she said she would follow up with “pre-interview questions on the agreed-upon topic, the new direction of the EPA, and helping communities that were poorly served by the last administration.”
In subsequent emails, Aloi repeatedly sought “talking points” and the “top three priorities are for the EPA that Mr. Pruitt would like to discuss specifically.”
Once Graham sent over the talking points, Aloi sought the government official’s approval for the script introducing Pruitt’s segment.
“Would this be okay as the setup to his segment?” producer Diana Aloi asked.
“There’s a new direction at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump—and it includes a back-to-basics approach. This after the Obama administration left behind a huge mess more than 1,300 super-fund sites which are heavily contaminated—still require clean-ups. So why was President Obama touted as an environmental savior if all these problems still exist?”
The EPA comms shop was pleased.
“Yes — perfect,” Graham replied.
Joesf would have been so proud.
". . . those who claim to know the Mind of God, who will tell you what God thinks and how He will judge and condemn others—those people are the greatest of all blasphemers." Aloysius Xingu Leng Pendergast
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