NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA — Two Louisiana congressmen are calling on the Justice Department to respond to a complaint that one of its attorneys tried to bar a newspaper reporter from quoting or recording the lawyer’s comments at a public hearing in New Iberia.
The Daily Iberian contends Justice Department attorney Rachel Hranitzky became “belligerent and threatening” after the reporter, Matthew Beaton, questioned why he couldn’t quote her comments during a June 12 public hearing about the New Iberia Fire Department’s hiring and promotion practices.
The newspaper reported that Hranitzky told Beaton he would be asked to leave the City Hall hearing if he didn’t comply with her directive.
“Then (the Justice Department) can call your editors and publisher at the paper, and trust you don’t want to get on the Department of Justice’s bad side,” the paper quoted Hranitzky as saying.
Sen. David Vitter and Rep. Jeff Landry, both Republicans, have asked the Justice Department to respond to a June 15 letter from Managing Editor Jeff Zeringue complaining about the reporter’s treatment.
Zeringue said Tuesday that he was still waiting for a response, but department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre says Hranitzky “never attempted to alter or stop a news story.”
“The reporter from The Daily Iberian not only was present for the entire meeting, but the newspaper published multiple articles related to the meeting using quotes attributed to a department attorney,” Chitre said in a statement.
Beaton was covering a hearing about a federal consent decree governing the city’s operation of its fire department. In his letter to Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Zeringue said Beaton wasn’t able to record his exchange with the attorney but stands by his recollection and reporting on it.
“We are appalled that the Department of Justice would attempt to prohibit or limit media coverage, or worse, attempt to intimidate U.S. citizens, at a public meeting,” he wrote.
In separate letters to Perez, Vitter and Landry asked him to cite any law or code that would have prohibited Hranitzky from being quoted during the hearing.
“I came to Washington to fight for an open, accountable, and transparent government,” Landry wrote. “I find it wholly unacceptable that our government, specifically the DOJ, has not responded to Mr. Zeringue’s complaint.”