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Energy Secretary Spends $43,500 To Rank Reporters

November 9, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tired of unflattering press, Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary spent more than $40,000 to track and rank the reporters and media outlets covering her department.

The White House said Mrs. O’Leary would be asked for a full accounting of the project. ``On the face of it ... it is simply unacceptable,″ press secretary Mike McCurry said today.

Asked if she would be asked to resign, McCurry said, ``I don’t want to speculate on that.″

On Capitol Hill, two House Republicans called for O’Leary’s resignation, with one circulating a petition to get more support, and a Democratic senator said O’Leary should reimburse taxpayers.

The agency supplied The Wall Street Journal with copies of its reports for the months of April and July. The Journal published a story on O’Leary’s project in today’s editions.

DOE hired an investigative service to scrutinize hundreds of articles a month, and calculated scores using a 0-to-100-point scale on issues from nuclear waste to Mrs. O’Leary’s own reputation.

In defending the report, Energy spokeswoman Barbara Semedo told the newspaper an unfavorable rating for a reporter ``meant we weren’t getting our message across, that we needed to work on this person a little.″

The Energy Department, which also used the service to rate its own public relations staff, planned a fuller statement later today.

The July report ranked The Associated Press’ H. Josef Hebert last, with a 30.8 overall score. Hebert wrote that month about allegations that oversight at the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons facilities was sloppy and that the health effects of radiation exposure had been underestimated. In a story on secret government-radiation tests during the Cold War, Hebert reported that there were still ``serious deficiencies″ in the way the government protects the rights of participants in human experiments.

``As far as I’m concerned, if you have too good a rating, you aren’t doing your job,″ Hebert said.

``We don’t design our coverage to curry favor at the Energy Department,″ said Jonathan Wolman, the AP’s bureau chief in Washington. ``We’re proud of Hebert’s reporting on energy and environmental issues.″

Also scoring relatively low in July was Matthew Wald of The New York Times, who received a 46.7 for stories on plutonium storage. The Wall Street Journal didn’t appear in the reports.

The detailed monthly reports, complete with colorful graphics and charts that ranked reporters, their sources and the news organizations that employ them, cost $43,500, The Wall Street Journal said.

``One might ask why a government agency is spending money ranking reporters,″ Wolman said.

At the White House, disclosure of the project ``caused a great deal of concern,″ spokesman McCurry said. He said chief of staff Leon Panetta would request an accounting from the department secretary.

In a speech on the House floor, Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, called the newspaper report a ``shocking story about further abuse of governmental power″ and demanded O’Leary’s resignation.

``If the Journal story is accurate, the secretary of energy should not remain in office one more day,″ Chabot said. ``President Clinton should dismiss her immediately.″

Rep. Martin Hoke, R-Ohio, also began circulating a letter that he intends to deliver to the White House with a list of lawmakers who want O’Leary’s resignation. And he contacted the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which is asking for copies of the reports, he said.

Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., who has a long-running feud with the Energy Department over plans to build a high-level nuclear waste dump in that state, said O’Leary should reimburse taxpayers for what he called a ``truly outrageous″ expenditure.

Bryan contended it was ``primarily driven by the ego of the individual involved and by a paranoia that seems rampant″ at the agency.

Albert Barr, president of Carma International, which compiled the ratings, said the service’s goal isn’t to rate journalists’ attitudes, but to analyze news coverage.

``If a journalist on our list scores an unfavorable rating, it doesn’t mean that journalist is unfavorably disposed to that client,″ he explained. ``It doesn’t mean you have a personal bias against that company.″

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