Jewell: Running off reporters a misunderstanding
The Interior Department blamed a “breakdown in communications” for an incident last week in which Interior Secretary Sally Jewell barred reporters from attending a public meeting in Craig.
Interior Department communications director Kate Kelly wrote that the agency would “redouble our efforts” to work with local governments and respect press freedoms.
Kelly wrote the letter in response to a letter from the Colorado Press Association saying that Jewell violated the spirit of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press.
Jewell “attended what our office had understood to be a small meeting with community leaders,” Kelly wrote. “It appears there was a breakdown in communications with the (Moffat County) commissioners about the parameters of the meeting.”
Interior’s letter marked a satisfactory outcome, said Noelle Leavitt Riley, whose reporter on the story was twice barred from attending the meeting, and who had a direct confrontation with Jewell in the parking lot.
“I think the ultimate goal in this whole ordeal was to A) get them to acknowledge the miscommunication and, B) for them not to do it in the future,” Leavitt Riley said.
A man believed to have been an Interior Department employee prevented reporters with The Craig Daily Press and radio station KRAI from covering the meeting, which the commission had publicly noticed so that all three commissioners could attend.
A spokesman for the Interior Department at the time said the meeting was open to the public and that only reporters were excluded from the meeting.
Reporters are part of the public and can’t be excluded while other people are allowed into public events, Steve Zansberg, attorney for the Colorado Press Association, wrote to Interior on behalf of the newspaper and press association.
About 50 people attended the meeting of residents, officials and energy industry and environmental organizations, in the American Legion hall.
Jewell spent extra time in the meeting, Kelly noted in the letter, so that she would hear all points of view.
Leavitt Riley, with a copy of Colorado’s Sunshine laws in hand, approached Jewell in the parking lot as Jewell was leaving, but was rebuffed.
“I think my point was made to the secretary,” Leavitt Riley said. Had the Interior Department failed to acknowledge the miscommunication and promised no change, the incident would not be over, Leavitt Riley said.
The misunderstanding “was also unfortunate because it has distracted from the original purpose of the secretary’s visit: to highlight the work that is being done on the ground through private landowners at all levels of government on the critical sage-grouse efforts,” Kelly wrote.
Two Interior Department agencies are dealing with the greater sage-grouse. The Bureau of Land Management is considering adjusting its management practices to preserve the bird and in so doing, prevent a listing by its sister agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, from listing the bird as endangered.
Local government officials and the energy industry have said they fear an endangered listing would be calamitous for the economies of regions inhabited by the grouse.