MSNBC has issued a warning to Hugh Hewitt after it was revealed the host personally lobbied embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to cleanup up a toxic waste site near his home in Orange County, Calif.
Hewitt’s role in setting up a meeting between Pruitt and lawyers from Larson O’Brien was first reported by Politico as part of a cache of emails released after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the Sierra Club. Hewitt works for the firm, which is representing a California Superfund site. Following the meeting, Pruitt moved the area onto a priority list of Superfund sights targeted for “immediate and intense” action.
The problem for Hewitt is he has defended Pruitt multiple times on MSNBC as well as on his syndicated radio show (which airs in Philadelphia daily on News Talk 990 AM), without disclosing he was simultaneously benefiting from his ties to the EPA leader.
In a statement, an MSNBC spokesperson noted that Hewitt had disclosed his friendship with Pruitt several times on the network, and had disclosed that his son, James, works for the agency. As a result, Hewitt agreed to refrain from discussing EPA-related matters on the network.
“However, after the network learned Tuesday that Hewitt set up an EPA meeting in the fall, he was given a verbal warning as such activity is a violation of our standards,” the statement said.
After the Politico report was published, several reporters called out MSNBC over what appeared to be a clear conflict-of-interest.
“Um, it’s not okay for a cable news contributor to ask the EPA administrator for favors like this and still be on TV talking about him. At. All,” Michael Barbaro, the host of the popular New York Times podcast The Daily, wrote on Twitter. “How does MSNBC possibly justify keeping Hugh Hewitt on the payroll given this?” Vox’s Matthw Yglesias wrote.
As recently as April 2, Hewitt was defending Pruitt on MSNBC, claiming that criticism surrounding a condo the EPA leader leased at below-market rates was politically motivated.
“It is not in any way, shape, or form a gift. It’s much ado about nothing,” Hewitt said on MSNBC Live without disclosing his ties to Pruitt. “He’s executing Donald Trump’s policy… on regulatory rollback, and they want him out.”
Hewitt himself downplayed the importance of the meeting on his syndicated radio show on Tuesday, noting the plan was originally negotiated under President Obama, and that “there’s nobody who opposes this.”
“I knew it was going to show up in the FOIA request… I just didn’t think it was a story,” Hewitt told his listeners. “We just wanted to get going, because it’s five square miles of polluted water, and so yes, I am all in favor of cleaning up this Superfund site in my home county.”
MSNBC isn’t the only media outlet grappling with Hewitt’s cozy relationship with Pruitt. Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told liberal media watchdog Media Matters on Tuesday that Hewitt would no longer be allowed to write columns about Pruitt.
“I was disturbed to learn this morning that Hugh Hewitt had intervened with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on behalf of Hewitt’s law firm as he was writing about Pruitt in a column for The Washington Post,” Hiatt said. “Hewitt, who has not written about Pruitt since September, has agreed not to write about him going forward and has assured us that similar incidents won’t occur in the future.”
Since January 2017, Hewitt has written at least six columns either defending or outright praising Pruitt without disclosing his law firm’s work, describing him in one piece as one of “the domestic policy stars of the Trump administration.”