The Environmental Protection Agency is pushing back against The Associated Press’ reporting on Administrator Scott Pruitt’s private travel.
The AP released a report on Wednesday titled: “EPA chief sat in coach when not flying on taxpayer’s dime.” The headline — and the opening lede — suggested that the leader of the EPA makes more economical decisions when taking personal flights, as opposed to his travel when conducting official business.
Pruitt has received criticism for flying first class on the taxpayers’ dime, an arrangement he says is made for security reasons. The AP story centered on how Pruitt flew coach on Southwest Airlines when he made personal trips to Oklahoma in August and September.
However, there is one major detail included about Southwest Airlines: They do not offer first-class travel. This detail was included in the body of the AP article, but the headline and angle of the report framed Pruitt as a hypocrite when it comes to personal travel.
“Despite their misleading headline, the Associated Press knowingly reported that that there are no premium-class seats on Southwest Airlines,” read a Wednesday statement from the EPA. “The fact is: Administrator Pruitt consistently follows the same security measures, which is not about sitting in first class but sitting near the front of the plane. It’s impossible to fly first-class on Southwest Airlines, however Administrator Pruitt always sat in the first few rows of the aircraft.”
This was not the only detail the EPA took issue with. The AP claimed on Twitter that it confirmed their story with the agency.
@EPA confirms @AP reports that @EPAScottPruitt sat in coach when not flying on taxpayer’s dime, despite claims he needed to fly in first class when traveling at government expense because of security concerns (1/2) https://t.co/8tZBgsEJT6
— Michael Biesecker (@mbieseck) April 18, 2018
However, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said this tweet is false and that the agency never confirmed their report. “The same security procedures are followed whether Administrator Pruitt is on official or personal travel,” the official statement provided to the AP read. The statement neither confirmed nor denied the story.
Pruitt, who has racked up thousands of dollars in travel expenses since taking the helm of the EPA, has received immense criticism for taking first-class flights on taxpayer dollars. Democrats and other Pruitt opponents have used news of his expensive flights to push for his ouster. The EPA, however, maintains more expensive flights are necessary for his safety.
Pruitt has been the target of aggression and profane language at airports since leading the agency.
“He was approached in the airport numerous times, to the point of profanities being yelled at him and so forth,” Henry Barnet, director of the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico in a Feb. 15 report. “We felt that based on the recommendation from the team leader, the special agent in charge, that it would be better suited to have him in business or first class, away from close proximity from those individuals who were approaching him and being extremely rude, using profanities and potential for altercations and so forth.”
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