Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price continues to duck questions about the arrest of a reporter who asked him pointed questions in a hallway at the West Virginia capitol earlier this week.
But this time, the man pressing him is a conservative radio host beloved on the political right.
“Well, I’ll leave that to the local authorities,” Price told Hugh Hewitt on Friday. Hewitt followed up by asking if the reporter, Dan Heyman, was “physically menacing” in the encounter, where he reportedly shouted a question about health care reform at Price as he walked to a meeting.
“Not when I was going through,” Price said. “But look, this is an issue for the West Virginia Capitol Police. They were doing a stellar job.”
After telling Price he hopes the secretary will reach out to the local cops and ask them to drop the misdemeanor charges Heyman faces, Hewitt got a bit more pointed.
“Arresting a journalist is not something we do in the United States,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt is right in theory, but wrong in practice. Reporters have been arrested repeatedly in recent months, including some of those covering both the Standing Rock protests and an Inauguration Day demonstration against President Donald Trump in Washinton, D.C.
Throughout his campaign for the White House, Trump relished opportunities to vilify the press. He has suggested he wants Congress to “open up our libel laws” to make it easier for public figures to sue reporters. He turned the traveling campaign press corps into a political prop at rallies, encouraging supporters to aim their anger toward the media seeking to cover his movement. Some supporters took to harassing reporters at rallies, including in a few cases by labeling them lugenpresse (“lying press”), a German term that Nazi Party propagandists were fond of directing at media in their day.
Heyman had sought Price’s response to claims that Trump’s health care overhaul — in addition to ripping nearly a trillion dollars out of Medicaid to fund a tax cut for the wealthy — would result in people suffering trauma related to domestic violence or sexual assault being priced out of health insurance.
Friday’s interview with Hewitt is at least the second time since the West Virginia incident where Price has deflected questions about Heyman’s arrest. At another event in New Hampshire, he told health care news site STAT that the reporter’s fate was up to the local authorities.
The irony of Price insisting he can’t weigh in here is thick, in light of his boss’s abrupt firing of the man in charge of investigating his campaign’s interactions with the Russian government.
And while public officials are leery of weighing in on criminal cases in normal circumstances, Heyman’s arrest doesn’t seem to fit that bill. By Price’s own admission, he was not physically aggressive or behaving erratically. Heyman currently faces six months in jail under the state statute police used to charge him. Price can stop all that from happening with a phone call.