SEJ Backs Member Threatened by Interior Secretary

December 12, 2012

The Society of Environmental Journalists wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the Election Day incident of attempted intimidation in Colorado, when the Secretary threatened to "punch out" SEJ member Dave Philipps, senior investigative reporter with the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Doing his job as a journalist (after unsuccessful attempts to contact Salazar through official channels), Philipps asked Salazar November 6, 2012 at a public campaign appearance about the Bureau of Land Management wild horses issue, including sales to buyer Tom Davis, who is now under investigation for shipping the protected animals out of state in violation of brand inspection laws.

After a two-minute interview was over (Salazar cut it short after he was asked about the horses), Salazar returned to Philipps and said: "You do that again ... I'll punch you out." Salazar said November 13 through a spokesman that he "regrets" the threat. Salazar apparently felt that questions about public policy were out of bounds because the event was an Obama campaign appearance which he was making in his "personal" capacity.

In its November 15 letter, SEJ said "Such a threat was intemperate and uncalled for, and went well beyond the bounds of civil discourse. It disrespected the role of journalism and journalists in a democratic society, as well as their public audience." SEJ also connected the dots between the ongoing difficulty environmental journalists have gaining access to Obama administration officials and the necessity of posing their questions when the opportunity does arise.

Two weeks later, Arizona GOP Gov. Jan Brewer punched KTVK reporter Dennis Welch after he asked a question about global warming. She had been speaking about energy at a meeting of the National Governors Association.

Video of December 1, 2012, interview with Gov. Brewer: