West Virginia Journalist Arrested for Asking Tom Price a Question

Journalist Dan Heyman of the Public News Service simply wanted to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price: Would domestic violence be considered a pre-existing condition under the American Health Care Act?

Instead of receiving an answer, Heyman ended up arrested.

Depending on who you believe, Heyman “yelled” — or was, perhaps, just “insistent” — as he approached Price during an appearance in Charleston, West Virginia. He repeated his question several times before asking if Price had no comment.

Price — accompanied by Kellyanne Conway — apparently didn’t have any comment, but West Virginia capitol police sure did, because they stepped in with handcuffs.

Price later praised law enforcement for taking what they deemed to be appropriate action, though he demurred when asked whether he thought an arrest was warranted.

Law enforcement claim that Heyman attempted to force himself past a line of Secret Service providing security, though Heyman says all he did was move his phone — which he was using as a recording device — closer to Price.

Historically, journalists have respected security cordons established by agencies like the Secret Service, acknowledging safety risks for public officials.

Notably, Price held a scheduled press conference later that day, during which he was available for questions. However, it’s not unusual for journalists to take advantage of a public figure who appears to be alone. After all, there’s always the hope of getting the scoop firsthand or surprising someone into an unexpected statement.

Heyman, a 30-year veteran of the industry, told Esquire that he was just doing his job.

While law enforcement claimed that Heyman refused to step back, he could have been escorted from the premises, rather than arrested.

criminal complaint obtained by NPR alleged that Heyman was “disruptive.” Should his case move forward, he could face a $100 fine and up to six months of jail time.

At the heart of this debate lies an important question: When does a journalist’s behavior cross the line — and when do law enforcement cross a line of their own, one enshrined at the heart of American society?

The ACLU of West Virginia certainly came out swinging, calling the incident “chilling.” Many journalists and members of the public are similarly troubled to see a member of the press threatened with legal penalties for asking a question.

This case would be disturbing enough on its own, but in context, it’s as chilling as the ACLU asserts it to be.

The Trump administration has maintained an antagonistic relationship with journalists. After all, the president routinely refers to institutions like the New York Times as “failing,”  and recently remarked that we should “change libel laws.”

That’s a clear threat from a man who made his hatred of the press a hallmark of his campaign.

In addition to attacking outlets he doesn’t support – like the New York TimesCNN and Buzzfeed — Trump has also targeted individual journalists. For instance, Trump retweeted comments about Jeff Zeleny of CNN and savaged Jim Acosta, another reporter from the network, during a press conference.

Trump hates bad press, and he’s clearly willing to go to great lengths to stop it, a worrying sign for the field of journalism.

On several occasions, the administration has selectively restricted access, allowing right-wing media — sometimes outlets with dubious reputations – exclusive access. In the wake of these incidents, the Committee to Protect Journalists cautioned that more of the same could lie in the future.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, famous for their role in breaking the Watergate scandal, took advantage of the White House Correspondents Dinner to issue similar warnings.

In January, six journalists were arrested while covering inauguration protests.

This case highlights how easy it can be to move the bar on acceptable behavior in response to external pressures. Would Heyman have faced arrest for questioning a member of the Obama administration in the same way? Or targeting a member of Congress?

The incident is also gravely worrying. Journalists should feel free to ask difficult questions and to doggedly pursue their subjects until they get answers.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

50 comments

Jennifer H
Jennifer H2 months ago

"Price — accompanied by Kellyanne Conway" Nothing surprises me when this dingbat is involved. But, actually, expecting an answer from them? Now that should be a no-brainer. If you get one, it will be a lie.

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Carl R
Carl R2 months ago

Thanks!!!!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE2 months ago

Wish we had all the facts.

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Joan E
Joan E2 months ago

Hoping Tom Price's arrest is coming soon. Good Americans don't care for bullies in general and pols who don't respect reporters' Constitutional right to do their job. Would like to see a harsher punishment for the Montana creep who just beat up a reporter and will now be further disgracing the Republican Congress.

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william Miller
william Miller2 months ago

Thanks

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Regus Slantei
Regus Slantei2 months ago

Welcome to 1930s Germany..............or better yet, and more relevant to the current administration's ties, welcome to 1940s Soviet Union.

.......this being brought to you by every jack one of your fellow citizens who in Nov. saw the stark difference in choice in front of them, and by not voting for Hillary allowed the scurviest, dirty bottom-feeders of the [R] party to infest the white house and to thereby begin to kill our great country by infecting its will to preserve freedom.

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Carl R
Carl R2 months ago

Thanks!!!!

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heather g
heather g2 months ago

Democracy ?

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rosario p
rosario p2 months ago

"When the journalists of a country are silenced, their people are silenced! " This is happening in many countries. Authorities abuse their power.

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Carl R
Carl R3 months ago

Thanks!!!

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