At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Fox News had an entire section on its front page devoted to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt—but not one story about his spreading ethics controversy, which has dominated headlines at other major news sites for most of the day.
The section featured stories about the EPA’s roll-back of car pollution regulations, Pruitt’s fight against the “war on coal,” and efforts to make the marijuana industry more energy efficient. A listicle of “5 things to know about the EPA administrator” mentioned that Pruitt “has found himself in controversy” over his $50/night condo rental agreement with a top energy lobbyist’s wife, and that he “has been criticized for his high travel expenses.” Then it moved on to unrelated facts, like Pruitt’s Baptist faith and his former ownership of a minor league baseball team.
Pruitt’s scandals are objectively newsworthy. This week alone—and it’s only Tuesday—journalists have revealed that he considered leasing a $100,000/month private jet for travel; his lobbyist landlord funded his campaign for Oklahoma attorney general; the lobbyist landlord’s client got a huge pipeline project approved by the EPA; and Pruitt gave huge raises to two of his staffers despite the White House rejecting his request for those raises.
This comes after earlier reporting on Pruitt’s below-market rental deal and his exorbitant first-class travel. President Donald Trump reportedly told Pruitt on Tuesday that his job is safe, but Politico later reported that White House officials “are making it clear that the EPA leader’s future in the administration is still very much in doubt.”
Readers of popular conservative news sites would be forgiven if they didn’t know all this. Most aren’t promoting the story at all. On Tuesday afternoon, there was no mention of Pruitt on the popular aggregation site Drudge Report, alt-right favorite Gateway Pundit, or the website of conservative magazine National Review. The Wall Street Journal did not have a front-page Pruitt story either, despite the fact that its reporters have done some of the best reporting on the scandal.
The conservative news sites that do mention Pruitt’s scandals are either very brief or highlight Trump’s support for him, like a story on Breitbart’s front page titled “Trump to EPA Chief as Leftists Attack: ‘We Have Your Back.’” (“Much of leftist’s vitriol for the EPA administrator arises from his rampant dismantling of Obama’s climate agenda,” the article stated.) The Daily Caller published a short article on Trump’s support for Pruitt too, as well as a six-paragraph post about GOP fundraisers held in Pruitt’s lobbyist-connected apartment. On Fox and Friends this morning, Pruitt’s ethical quandaries were covered for exactly 21 seconds.
It’s not uncommon for conservative news outlets to downplay controversies about conservative politicians, but usually, once a controversy becomes big enough, some pundits on the right will argue why it’s not a controversy or why it’s overblown. Thus far, though, the main defense of Pruitt has been that the EPA was worse under Obama. Outlets like Fox News and the New York Post have pushed the false claim that Obama’s EPA heads actually spent more on travel than Pruitt. And on Tuesday, the pro-Trump site American Greatness argued that Gina McCarthy, an EPA administrator under Obama, was the “really corrupt” one.
Not all conservative outlets are engaging in this whataboutism. But their silence amid this growing scandal is itself a damning indictment of Pruitt.