CPJ: Arrest of Journalist Trying to Ask Secretary Tom Price a Question Is an ‘Affront to Press Freedom’

In America

Headshot of Corinne Grinapol

Things that happened in the country yesterday other than the firing of FBI director James Comey: a journalist was arrested for trying to ask Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price a question. Dan Heyman, a journalist with the nonprofit Public News Service was arrested for trying to do his job, i.e. follow Sec. Price and White House advisor Kellyanne Conway down a hall of the West Virginia State Capitol to get an answer to his question about whether domestic abuse counts as a pre-existing condition under the AHCA.

Heyman, who was wearing a press badge and other identifying markers, was arrested by police for “willful disruption of state government processes” and was later released on $5000 bail. A spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety tried to justify the arrest by saying, “This is not about someone merely trying to ask questions. He was physically trying to push past the agents.”

Here is Heyman’s own account, as described to Esquire’s Kaitlin Menza:

I asked him the question of whether domestic violence would be a pre-existing condition that could result in the denial of insurance under Trumpcare. And he didn’t say anything, kept walking,” Heyman said. “So I asked him again and walked along with him on this corridor. At one point I sort of was moving through the entourage behind him, and somebody said, ‘Stay back, get away.'” Heyman kept going.

“I moved to the other side of the hallway, keeping up with this group as it moved to get another shot at asking this question. I think I asked him a total of three or four times. At some point, I was pulled aside by the capitol police,” he said. “I want to make clear—if you’re a daily reporter, I’m sure you’ve been involved in scrum situations where you’re trying to ask somebody a question. It was pretty much exactly like that. I was reaching over or between people, sort of leaning into the group, to try to get my cell phone close to him. But I wasn’t trying to get past people.”

Alexandra Ellerbeck, a senior U.S. and Americas researcher with the Committee to Protect Journalists, called for charges to be dropped against Heyman, who faces a potential fine of $100 and a max penalty of six months in jail. “The arrest of a journalist trying to ask a question in the public interest is a clear affront to press freedom,” she said.

“This is my job. This is what I’m supposed to do. I am supposed to go and find out if somebody is going to be affected by this health care law,” said Heyman in a press conference yesterday following his release.

In case you’re wondering where Secretary Price stands on the First Amendment issues raised here and a reporter’s place, he praised the police for “doing what they thought was appropriate,” further adding that the “gentleman was not in a press conference.”