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Dan Heyman, a local West Virginia writer and news reporter, was arrested last week inside the halls of the state's capitol building for trying to ask a politician a question. The arresting officers claimed that Mr. Heyman was creating a disturbance, and, officially, that he was arrested for "willful disruption of a governmental process."
Tom Price, the country's Health and Human Services secretary, was walking in the state capitol with Kellyanne Conway, when Heyman, with valid press credentials on display, approached to ask a question about whether victims of domestic violence and rape risk losing coverage under the AHCA. But, rather than getting a response to the question, Heyman got arrested. Price refused to answer the question or condemn the arrest.
The Free Press and Press Conferences
In the aftermath of the incident, perhaps most surprisingly, Tom Price commended police for arresting Heyman. Additionally, Price stated that Heyman was not in a press conference, as if to justify the arrest. This later statement is rather significant because press conferences are used by governments and large corporations to attempt to control the release of information.
Press conferences are not called by the press, and, while helpful, most members of the free press don't rely on press conferences to gather information. Independent fact gathering and questioning public officials is all part of the job.
Traditionally, the press have always asked questions of politicians wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself. If a politician dodges, or ducks, a question, a reporter can comment on it. Price was likely happy to sidestep Heyman's question: answering could have exposed one of the many alleged flaws of the AHCA, namely that domestic violence and rape victims can potentially have their health care premiums raised after being criminally victimized.
Heyman contends he was simply doing his job as a member of the free press and was attempting to gather the facts surrounding an important topic he was covering. Despite Heyman gaining near instant notoriety as a result of his arrest, he issued a rather humble response to the outpouring of support he received from the public.