UCLA has posted video of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin being heckled by an audience at the university, footage that Mnuchin previously had demanded be kept under wraps.
The incident at the campus last month might have attracted little attention had Mnuchin not refused to allow the university to post a video of his appearance.
UCLA officials said they were bound by an agreement that gave Mnuchin control over whether video of the event could be aired.
But news of his refusal brought numerous requests, under the state’s public records act, that the video be released.
“The Treasury Department was aware that the video was the subject of Public Records Act requests and would be made available to requestors through that process on March 9,” said Peggy McInerny, director of communications for the UCLA International Institute, which arranged the event.
Mnuchin decided to end his objections to public release of the video, according to UCLA.
The university put video of Mnuchin’s full appearance online Friday.
At the Feb. 26 event, public radio host Kai Ryssdal interviewed Mnuchin for “Marketplace,” which focuses on news about business and the economy. About 400 people attended the discussion at the UCLA Anderson School of Management’s Korn Convocation Hall.
Details of the heckling quickly came out because “Marketplace” posted audio as well as an edited transcript — and people in the audience posted their own cellphone videos.
Early on, audience members hissed when Ryssdal asked: “What was it about the president’s approach to the American economy that made you say, ‘I want to work for this guy’?”
“I think they’re going to get more tired than I am,” Mnuchin responded, referring to the hecklers.
“Fat chance,” yelled an audience member.
“I’m dealing with students. I forgot,” Mnuchin responded. “There’s a lot of students.”
Mnuchin appeared to be responding with an attempt at humor — and there was some laughter.
At a different point, Mnuchin bristled at Ryssdal’s questions and accused the radio host of bias.
A sixth-grader in the audience also put Mnuchin on the spot. “You helped cut taxes for the wealthy, which makes them even richer,” the student began. “The middle-class tax cuts are small and last for just eight years. But the corporate tax cut was permanent. How is that just?”
The student got a big round of applause.
“The fact is we were able to fix a broken system, make America competitive and create middle-income tax cuts,” Mnuchin responded, to more hissing.
“And,” he continued, “you can hiss all you want, but for the people who are getting these tax cuts, they’re not hissing.”
Then he again tried a lighter tone: “I’m not getting a tax cut, by the way. I live in California.”
The Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists was one group that requested public release of the video.
“The university is a public institution, hosting a public event involving a public official speaking on matters of public interest, and was under no legal obligation to comply with a federal government request to suppress the online publication of an official record of such an event,” the organization said in a statement.
The San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition also made a request.
“It’s troubling that the university initially caved to the request of a third party to withhold public records, and even more troubling that when they did eventually release the footage, they claimed to do so because they ‘received consent,’ ” said David Snyder, the group’s executive director.
The Treasury Department had an agreement with the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations that video of the event would be posted on the center’s website. But department officials “subsequently withdrew the consent,” McInerny said. The center has never had that happen after an event, she said.