“The NewsGuild-CWA condemns the arrest of radio reporter Dan Heyman on May 9, 2017,” said President Bernie Lunzer. “This is a chilling attack on the right to report. Every journalist across the country should take notice.”
The arrest is part of a pattern of escalating attacks on the media since the Trump administration took office, Lunzer said, which the union is determined to fight.
“In situations like this, the NewsGuild-CWA stands ready to assist,” he said. The organization is sending letters of protest to the West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, the West Virginia Capitol Police and the Secret Service, Lunzer said.
Heyman’s crime? The reporter for Public News Service persisted in asking Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price about the Republican health care bill as Price walked through the West Virginia state capital. Price and Kellyanne Conway, Special Counsel to President Trump, were in Charleston to meet with local and state officials and representatives of addiction treatment groups about the opioid crisis in the state, according to the Associated Press.
Heyman repeatedly asked Price whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the health care bill, which passed the House on May 4. “In some cases, before the Affordable Care Act, it was a pre-existing condition,” he said, and women who suffered domestic violence were denied coverage.
“This is my job. This is what I’m supposed to do,” Heyman said immediately after his release on $5,000 bail. “I’m supposed to find out if someone is going to be affected by this healthcare law… I think it’s a question that deserves to be answered. I think it’s my job to ask questions and I think it’s my job to try to get answers.”
Heyman said he was recording audio on his phone, which he reached out toward Price, past his staffers, as he walked down the hall. He asked Price the question repeatedly but Price did not answer.
Heyman said he told police officers he was a reporter at the time of the arrest. He was wearing his press credentials over a shirt bearing the Public News Service’s insignia.
He said he thought state police decided he was being “too persistent” in trying to do his job. Heyman was charged with “willful disruption of state government processes.” But he says, “no one who identified themselves as a peace office of any kind – until I was arrested – told me I should not be where I was,” Heyman told reporters.
The West Virginia ACLU and numerous other organizations immediately denounced the arrest. “Today was a dark day for democracy,” the ACLU of West Virginia said. “But the rule of law will prevail. The First Amendment will prevail.”
“This is a highly unusual case,” Heyman’s attorney, Tim DiPiero, said. “I’ve never had a client get arrested for talking too loud or anything similar to that.”
Heyman has been a reporter for about 30 years, with his work appearing in the New York Times, NPR and other national news outlets, he said. He has worked for Public News Service, which provides content to media outlets and publishes its own stories, since 2009.