When a prolific lobbyist wanted to arrange a meeting between the National Geographic Society’s top executive and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, she tried to find some common ground with the Trump appointee: conservative politics.
Over the course of several months in 2017, Jessica Garrison, a former Republican Attorneys General Association consultant, who set up numerous meetings between Pruitt and various business executives, sent a series of emails to Pruitt’s scheduler Millan Hupp and Madeline Morris, an assistant to Pruitt’s chief of staff, according to emails released in a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Sierra Club.
Garrison hoped to set up a meeting between Pruitt and Gary Knell, CEO of National Geographic Partners, the parent company of NatGeo and National Geographic magazine. But she apparently needed to sweeten the pot for Pruitt’s camp.
In one email from July 25, Garrison gave Hupp and Morris a professional bio of Knell, noting his work at National Geographic and the Council on Foreign Relations, among other roles.
Unsatisfied with the first attempt, Garrison then sent a follow-up email highlighting Knell’s fairness to conservatives in the media.
She noted that Knell had played a prominent role in reforming NPR after the company fired political commentator Juan Williams for admitting on Fox News that he got nervous flying with people dressed in “Muslim garb”—a decision that infuriated conservatives.
“NPR hired Gary Knell, Gary removed most of the NPR board and began reforms to ensure NPR was balanced in its coverage,” Garrison noted in her pitch, adding that Knell was the CEO who “conducted search” into NPR’s supposed political bias.
Garrison also highlighted the National Geographic chief’s positive relationship with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, who inked an expanded partnership with National Geographic back in 2015.
“Gary personally brokered a critical deal with Rupert Murdoch to buy and provide capital to Nat Geo mission,” she continued. “He is a great, smart, stand-up guy that wants to find common ground with EPA on water security and provide a dialogue on other environmental issues of interest to Adm Pruitt and to Nat Geo.”
The pair eventually met on Sept. 12, 2017, according to the EPA schedule and an official tweet from Pruitt’s account.
Lobbyists regularly attempt to highlight relevant aspects of a person’s background that may make for an easier meeting. For example, when she attempted to set up a different meeting between Pruitt and the American Foundry society, Garrison pointed out that the meeting would be a “great opportunity to discuss regulatory reform” with iron and aluminum manufacturers, several of whom were from Oklahoma, Pruitt’s home state.
And Pruitt’s affinity for conservative media is well-documented.
Since taking office, the EPA chief has largely eschewed traditional media outlets in favor of interviews with friendlier, outwardly right-leaning outfits.
After a series of investigations revealed the EPA chief’s ties to an oil-and-gas lobbyist, Pruitt conducted several interviews with conservative news outlets, including the Heritage Foundation’s reporting website The Daily Signal.
Vox also pointed out that Pruitt has done more interviews with Fox News than any other media outlet combined. And so it comes as no surprise that Garrison would attempt to parlay that affinity into a meeting with the NatGeo boss.
But as headlines about Pruitt’s lobbyist ties and treatment of staffers pile up, he may find fewer allies on the right.
In April, Fox News host Ed Henry grilled Pruitt about living in a lobbyist-owned condo and decision to ignore the White House’s directive not to give several staffers big pay raises. And last month, Fox News right-wing populist host Steve Hilton called on the EPA chief to resign.
“If a Democratic official had done this in the Obama administration, we would be calling for his head,” Hilton said. “The fact that it’s happening in this administration, elected on an explicit promise to clamp down on this kind of behavior, makes it even more important that we don’t tolerate it.”