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It’s Steve Mnuchin’s Fault We’re Still Talking About This Video of Steve Mnunchin Getting Heckled

Yes—we’re still talking about the time Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin got yelled at by a bunch of college students in Los Angeles. In the Trumpworld, where porn stars get paid hush money and trade wars get started on a whim, the heckling of a cabinet secretary is the sort of story that should die after 24 hours or less. But two weeks later, there are fresh headlines about the incident from the Associated Press, Fox News, and Los Angeles Times, and Mnuchin only has himself to blame.

Back on February 26, Mnuchin appeared at UCLA for a public interview with Kai Ryssdal of NPR’s Marketplace before an audience of students there. The students, predictably and understandably, were largely not interested in listening to a guy who runs the treasury despite behaving like a mustachioed robber baron from a Disney cartoon, and thus spent most of the speech hissing and shouting whenever Mnuchin tried to talk. The story probably would have ended with a few weepy centrist op-eds about free speech and kids these days if it weren’t for what happen next: Mnuchin rescinded on an earlier agreement with UCLA that footage from the talk would be released publicly, and the university complied with his request to keep it private.

In a sense, it didn’t matter, because plenty of audience members recorded their own videos, which were promptly posted online. Mnuchin clearly didn’t want you to see him getting repeatedly shit on, so let’s pause our narrative for a moment to watch a few of them.

Feels kinda good, doesn’t it? In any event, the only reason anyone is still talking about this is that several news organizations rightfully pointed out to UCLA that the footage constitutes a public record, considering that the Mnuchin event was hosted by a publicly funded university and filmed on the university’s budget. That means it shouldn’t matter whether Mnuchin’s feelings got hurt—the university would be obligated under California’s Public Records Act to release the footage if asked. It finally did so on Friday. By some combination of the Trump administration’s pathological antagonism of the media, Mnuchin’s thin skin, and the good old fashioned Streisand Effect, a one-day story that would have been buried under a mountain of other news has provided another bad headline for the Trump White House on a day full of them.

Still, the most alarming aspect of the story is UCLA’s reluctance to publish the video. On Friday, a statement from the university noted that it had received Mnuchin’s consent, seeming to indicate that it was releasing the footage because the secretary had given the okay, not because of the law. “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’ from the Treasury Department,” David Snyder of the First Amendment Coalition told the AP.

For all the hyperbolic recent talk in the New York Times opinion pages and elsewhere about how college students are indulging in dangerous illiberalism by shouting down the likes of Mnuchin and Christina Hoff Sommers when they come to campus, it is the behavior of Mnuchin and UCLA in this case that exemplifies an actual, enduring threat to free speech: an immensely rich and powerful man attempting to skirt the law and bend a public institution to his will to prevent the release of information that he believes runs counter to his interests. Watch the newly released full video here, and take comfort in the knowledge that doing so is one of the few things you can do to make Steve Mnuchin mad.