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MSNBC is being forced to answer questions about the role that one of its employees, Saturday-morning show host Hugh Hewitt, played in brokering a meeting between embattled EPA head Scott Pruitt and lawyers representing a California Superfund site. The lawyers, who work for the same firm as Hewitt, Larson O’Brien, met with Pruitt in October and were successful in lobbying the EPA to put the Orange County North Basin site they represent on a list of locations targeted for “immediate and intense” action.
On Sept. 8, Hewitt emailed EPA associate administrator Tate Bennett about setting up the meeting. “The Administrator is looking forward to catching up with you and we will process this other request,” Bennett responded to Hewitt just four minutes later. Hewitt told Milan Hupp, Pruitt’s director of scheduling, that he woud call “re dinner with the Pruitt’s and Betsy [Hewitt] and me.”
On Twitter, Hugh Hewitt played down what he called a “nonstory” about the meeting. “I think it is quite a reach to try and turn my and my law firm’s role in advocating the clean-up of an Orange County Superfund site pursuant to an agreement with Obama’s @EPA into a headline, but @Politico did it,” he wrote in one tweet.
Hewitt did not respond to emails sent to his personal and law firm accounts asking about his involvement and lack of disclosure on television.
When asked if MSNBC was aware of Hewitt’s involvement, a spokesman said Tuesday afternoon, “We’ll get back to you.” By press time Tuesday evening, the network had not provided any response or statement on the matter.
Hewitt, a longtime conservative radio host, was hired by MSNBC last summer to host a 30-minute show Saturday mornings that some said was incongruent with the network’s left-leaning programming and opinion hosts.
The Politico report drew criticism from media watchers who say that Hewitt’s involvement amounts to a conflict of interest, particularly considering Hewitt’s persistent defense of Pruitt on television.
“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,” The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro wrote. “How does @MSNBC possibly justify keeping Hugh Hewitt on the payroll given this?” Vox Media’s Matthew Yglesias asked Tuesday morning.
Hewitt is also a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said he was “disturbed” by the revelation, and said that Hewitt has agreed to not write again about Pruitt. Hiatt told Media Matters for America that Hewitt “assured us that similar incidents won’t occur in the future.”
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