U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said Tuesday he "regrets" threatening to punch a Gazette reporter for asking him last week about problems in the government's wild horse program.
Salazar visited Fountain on Nov. 6 as part of a tour through Colorado in support of President Obama's re-election campaign and Gazette reporter Dave Philipps asked him to answer a few questions on video.
Philipps, a prize-winning investigative reporter, had tried to reach Salazar for months through his press secretary to comment on a story Philipps wrote for ProPublica without response. The story detailed how a Colorado man with business connections to Salazar had been sold hundreds of federally protected wild horses despite being a proponent of horse slaughter. The fate of the horses is unknown.
When Philipps began asking Salazar about the program and possible personal ties he had to the wild horse buyer now under investigation, Salazar cut the interview short.
The secretary, dressed in a suit and wearing his signature white cowboy hat, approached Philipps, pushed The Gazette's video camera out of the way, and got within inches of the reporter's face.
"Don't you ever," Salazar said in a low voice, pointing a finger. "You know what, you do that again... I'll punch you out."
After saying he felt he'd been "set up," Salazar left.
"Holding our public officials accountable is one of the cornerstones of our role as journalists," said The Gazette’s Director of Content Carmen Boles. "We are dismayed that anyone would respond to legitimate questions in such a fashion."
The Gazette held the audio, hoping that Salazar would agree to a substantive interview concerning the wild horse program. His press office responded to requests with a simple statement: “The Secretary regrets the exchange.”
The confrontation was made public by the Colorado Springs-based wild horse advocacy group The Cloud Foundation on Monday and quickly spread through major news organizations and social media Tuesday.