Amid all the uproar about the firing of FBI Director James Comey yesterday, it might be easy to overlook another, perhaps more egregious, assault on democracy in the United States. That assault took place in West Virginia, when a reporter was arrested for asking HHS Secretary Tom Price a question.
That’s right. A reporter asked a question Price didn’t want to answer and wound up in cuffs and was hauled off to jail. In the wake of last week’s conviction of a woman for the crime of laughing during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, this second arrest signals what is beginning to look more and more like Putin’s Russia.
Dan Heyman, a reporter with Public News Service, approached Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in the hallway of the West Virginia state capital. He was trying to get a statement on whether domestic violence would be regarded as a preexisting condition under the healthcare bill giveaway to the wealthy recently passed by the House.
Price, who was in Charleston, W. Virginia with Kellyanne Conway to discuss the state’s rampant opioid epidemic with state and local officials, remained silent, so Heyman, continued to ask the question. It is, after all, what reporters do.
Then, out of nowhere, an officer pulled him aside, slapped on the cuffs and took him to jail.
According to the criminal complaint, Heyman was “aggressively breaching” the Secret Service agents who were providing security to Price and Conway. The complaint asserts that they were “forced to remove him a couple of times from the area.” Further, the statement claims that Heyman was “causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.”
Prior to the arrest, Heyman said he was not warned that he was in the wrong place. He was wearing a press pass and a shirt with the Public News Service logo and told police that he was a reporter just doing his job. Didn’t matter.
Heyman’s lawyer, Tim DiPiero, said the arrest was a “highly unusual case,” adding that he’s never had a client arrested for “talking too loud.”
A statement issued by the ACLU of West Virginia branded the arrest as “a blatant attempt to chill an independent free press,” calling the charges against Heyman “outrageous.” The statement went on to say, “This is a dangerous time in our country. Freedom of the press is being eroded every day. … Today was a dark day for democracy, but the rule of law will prevail. The First Amendment will prevail.”