This story, in which the Trump-appointed administrator of a federal agency apparently summarily banned an American journalist from participating in news conferences after the reporter refused to remove sentences in one of his stories that the administrator wanted removed, is striking, and not just because it represents a direct Trump administration attempt to censor what is reported in the press.
The short version is that Modern Healthcare reporter Virgil Dickson was removed from an agency telephone-held press conference and told he was not allowed to participate after someone within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, now headed by Seema Verma, a Pence-tied conservative whose healthcare vision primarily consists of Americans getting less of it, took issue with his reporting on the “abrupt” resignation of a top Medicaid official.
After the article appeared, Dickson received an email from Brett O’Donnell, a communications contractor working for CMS. O’Donnell called reports of a disagreement or workload problems “false speculation” and said it was “irresponsible” to mention them without more details. […]
The next day, O’Donnell wrote to Dickson’s editor, Matthew Weinstock, asserting that the article was inaccurate and demanding that the references to workload and the disagreement be excised. O’Donnell’s email also stated: “Short of fully correcting the piece we will not be able to include your outlet in further press calls with CMS.”
Dickson and his editor stood their ground—and at the next press call with CMS, Dickson was indeed removed from the call.
So we have a federal agency curtailing press access to reporters whose stories contain unpleasantries, which is off the bat not what we are supposed to be doing.
The person to call Dickson to make this demand is a curious character:
O’Donnell, the consultant who threatened to blackball Modern Healthcare, is not a member of the media affairs offices for CMS or for HHS.
He is a Republican strategist who has helped GOP candidates in their political campaigns. In 2015, O’Donnell pleaded guilty to lying to U.S. House ethics investigators about how much campaign work he did with money that came from office accounts rather campaign accounts.
O’Donnell, reached by email, declined to answer questions from AHCJ.
So he is apparently a consultant for the agency rather than an employee because he was too crooked for the post? Or does the Republican “strategist” find it more strategic to be off-payroll?
And what idiot hired a man fresh off a guilty plea for lying to investigators? Oh. Right. These clowns. And these clowns have apparently enlisted a consultant fresh off a guilty plea for lying to government investigators to help administrator Seema Verma purge the nation’s papers of … reporting she doesn’t like?