Hand-to-handheld combat

The congressional Radio/TV gallery fired back today after their print colleagues yesterday supported a politician-led effort to block the use of handheld video cameras in the halls outside the Senate chamber.

It all goes back to the ruckus that erupted last week when CNN’s Joe Johns used a mini-cam to get secondary footage in an interview with Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. Stevens complained that he was “ambushed.” We wondered aloud then whether the fracas would ultimately undermine the broadcasters push for greater access.

The Radio/TV gallery convened to investigate Johns’ behavior. Today, its Executive Committee exonerated him of any wrongdoing, reports Roll Call, but asked its members “to refrain from the use of small handheld cameras in the Ohio Clock Corridor while we endeavor to clarify and update the rules governing TV coverage on Capitol Hill.”

The timing of the broadcasters’ report has it reading like a response to yesterday’s missive by the print lobby to the Senate sergeant at arms, reported by The Hill, in which chairman (and Boston Globe correspondent) Susan Milligan objected to handheld cameras because print reporters “do not want our interviews with senators in the hallway and away from the Ohio Clock to be recorded.”

Huh. But tape recorders used by daily scribes (and radio journalists) are surely as likely to be used for surreptitious recording as are cameras. Might the real issue be that print journalists are wary of being upstaged in yet another setting by grandstanding teevee reporters, who tend to take up a lot of space whenever a camera-of any size-is in the vicinity?

Complete contents of the broadcasters’ and scriveners’ dueling docs, after the jump.

Today’s report from the Radio Television Correspondents Association:

The Executive Committee finds:

1) The incident that occurred in the Ohio Clock Corridor last Tuesday was not an ambush interview as Senator Stevens and his staff have suggested.

2) Joe Johns did not act unethically or deceptively

3) The rules in place governing camera coverage on Capitol Hill are outdated, unclear and open to differing interpretations.

4) The Executive Committee bears some responsibility for the incident because we were at the time engaged in a very public campaign for greater camera access. The Executive Committee wants to state for the record that it had no advance knowledge of Joe’s plans. The Executive Committee would also like to state for the record that his was NOT part of our overall campaign for greater camera access on Capitol Hill.

5) The Executive Committee urges CNN and other RTCA members to refrain from the use of small handheld cameras in the Ohio Clock Corridor while we endeavor to clarify and update the rules governing TV coverage on Capitol Hill.

Yesterday’s letter from the Standing Committee of Correspondents:

May 15, 2006

Honorable Bill Pickle
Sergeant at Arms, United States Senate

Dear Mr. Pickle,

The Standing Committee of Correspondents of the daily writing press gallery is committed to maintaining the access to Senators in the US Capitol which has been negotiated between Senate leaders, the Senate Rules Committee and the committee. We believe it serves the interests of Senators, the press corps and the public to allow reporters to conduct interviews on the second floor of the Capitol.

We do not endorse the use of hand-held video cameras on the second floor. We also do not want our interviews with Senators in the hallway and away from the Ohio Clock to be recorded. This includes the use of a remote microphone combined with a camera placed at a distance, since the practice amounts to an on-camera interview.

We have endorsed, and continue to endorse, the Radio-TV gallery’s request for increased camera stake-outs at the Ohio Clock. We believe this is a reasonable request that would allow broadcast reporters to interview Senators on camera with their permission.

While we understand our broadcast colleagues’ desire for greater camera access, we believe they already have the same access enjoyed by print reporters. Any broadcast reporter may interview Senators with a pen and pad or tape recorder; it is the cameras themselves which are limited.

We all appreciate the special environment we have on Capitol Hill, one which allows informal, one-on-one discussions between reporters and members of Congress. We believe the presence of cameras — or even the possibility that an interview is being taped surreptitiously for use on television — negatively interferes with that environment.

We respect Senators’ reasonable request that they not be filmed in restricted areas without permission, and we ask Senators to continue to respect our right to move freely and approach them for off-camera interviews on the second floor.


Susan Milligan, Chairman
Standing Committee of Correspondents