Security footage shows an EPA security guard push an Associated Press reporter out of the agency’s headquarters last year.
The video, obtained by E&E News under the Freedom of Information Act, shows AP reporter Ellen Knickmeyer inside the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building for roughly five minutes on May 22, 2018, before a female guard pushes her out with two hands on her shoulders.
Knickmeyer was trying that morning to cover then-Administrator Scott Pruitt’s high-profile summit on the agency’s plans to confront PFAS — for per- or polyfluoroalkyl — chemicals found in drinking water.
But Knickmeyer wasn’t part of a small group of journalists EPA invited for a select portion of the event. E&E News and CNN reporters also went to the building that morning and were barred from entering. EPA claimed at the time the agency had enough room at the summit to accommodate only 10 news outlets.
Asked for comment on the video, an AP spokeswoman confirmed to E&E News that Knickmeyer is in the video and referred to the newswire’s story on the day’s events. AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said at the time EPA’s selective blocking of certain news organizations from covering the summit was "a direct threat to the public’s right to know about what is happening inside their government."
Later, after the treatment of the reporters gained widespread attention, EPA opened up the afternoon session of the summit that day to all members of the press (Greenwire, May 22, 2018). In addition, the AP said Lincoln Ferguson, then an adviser to Pruitt at EPA, called Knickmeyer to apologize for how she was treated and said the incident was being looked into. It is not clear if any disciplinary action has been taken against the guard.
An EPA spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment but referred E&E News to the General Services Administration since agency headquarters is a GSA building.
A GSA spokeswoman referred E&E News to the Department of Homeland Security since security at EPA sites falls under the department’s Federal Protective Service. DHS didn’t immediately answer questions for this story.
In the grainy security video — which has been partially blurred, hiding the faces of most people entering the south entrance to the Clinton building — Knickmeyer is shown entering the building and immediately speaking with a security guard posted there. The video has no audio.
She initially gives the guard an identification badge, which she gets back shortly after. A man who isn’t a guard shows her something on his tablet while she is trying to deal with the guards, and she makes a call.
The guards appear to argue with Knickmeyer at multiple points, and they gesture for her to leave the building. At one point, three security guards are speaking with her.
Near the end of the video, a guard points toward the door while talking to Knickmeyer. The guard then gets very close to Knickmeyer, keeps talking to her and pushes her out of the building, with both of the guard’s hands on the reporter’s shoulders.
A few seconds later, the guard returns to the building. Another security guard is shown smiling before the video ends.
At the time, the agency defended its handling of the incident.
"The Associated Press was told we were at capacity and a livestream would be available," then-EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement (E&E News PM, May 23, 2018).
"The AP reporter showed up at EPA but refused to leave the building after being asked to do so. When we were made aware of the incident, we displaced stakeholders to the overflow room who flew to Washington for this meeting so that every member of the press could have a seat."
Click here to see the full video.
Reporter Corbin Hiar contributed.