TV Newsers Explain What It Was Like Reporting From U.S. Capitol During Wednesday’s Insurrection

By A.J. Katz Comment

Hundreds of Trump supporters attending the Stop the Steal protest rally in Washington over President Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential election loss on Wednesday proceeded to storm the United States Capitol building, moving through barricades, security and even breaking into offices.

It was one of the most shocking and awful sights in American history.

TVNewser caught up with some of the correspondents who were there at the Capitol reporting on the insurrection. ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt, MSNBC correspondent Garrett Haake, Telemundo senior Washington correspondent Cristina Londoño, Fox News congressional correspondent Chad Pergram, PBS NewsHour Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins and CBS News chief justice correspondent Jeff Pegues provided us with their observations and insights from the ground during what was a historic, chaotic, and frankly, sad day for America.

What moment from your experience on Wednesday stands out the most to you—and why?

Desjardins: As I walked up to the front door of the Capitol, I saw a horde of people smashing up against the door with no police presence in sight. That moment is going to be hard to forget.

Haake: The most haunting thing I saw on Wednesday were rioters walking through Statuary Hall. I was across the street in the Russell building, watching on my monitor, and seeing these angry people in that space, just off the floor, where we are so used to seeing lawmakers on big nights like the State of the Union was incredibly jarring and disorienting.

Hunt: I was live on our special report when I saw pictures on the screen of people who weren’t supposed to be in the Capitol walking toward the door of the House chamber, and then Haley Talbot, our producer inside, started texting us they were being told to put on gas masks. The space where we were broadcasting from in the Russell building was never breached or evacuated so I was never in personal danger–so I was worried about Haley’s safety and I also was just in disbelief that not just the Capitol but the actual floor of the House had been breached. It’s unfathomable; I have been at the Capitol dozens of times during protests, some rowdy, and the safest place has always been inside. That sudden sense of vulnerability while inside these walls was chilling.

Londoño: Amid the chaos, as legislators were hiding on the floor or rushing out of their chambers in fear, I met Carmen, who works at a cafeteria inside the Capitol. Emotional and fighting back tears, Carmen said to me that her family had been calling her like crazy before she realized what was going on inside the building. The first thing they said to her was: “We wanted to make sure you didn’t get shot.” Her comment stunned me.  When you have a microphone in your hand, eager and ready to do what you need to do to get the story, sometimes you don’t stop and think of the danger. Carmen helped put the human element of yesterday’s events into perspective for me.

Pegues: Just standing on the lawn of the Capitol building, watching people climbing the walls. My first thought was ‘How did we arrive at this point in this country?’ Thousands of people thought storming the landmark of democracy was a good idea.

Pergram: I think the thing that I remember the most is that, seeing the image of the police officer shooting the woman at the edge of the speaker’s lobby, which is a main place where reporters, aides and other staff members just kind of work. Right past that doorway, there’s a transom above the main entrance to the speaker’s lobby on the Democratic side and on the Republican side, too. And as soon as that woman started to scale these glass doors and try to get in over top of the transom, that’s when he fired his weapon, because there’s a door that leads right to the chamber. They were almost in the chamber with members in there having just immediately suspended the joint session of Congress.

When you’re doing a constitutionally mandated act which was to certify the Electoral College for president, one of the most important things in the Constitution, that told me everything, just about how serious this was. The fact that when I was watching on the feed, the House was trying to figure out what they were trying to do. And I could see Keith Stern, who is [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s floor director, start running in and out of the door immediately to where I’m referring to. I know Keith very well and I know that one of the things I always watch for is if there’s trouble on the floor, it could be an amendment that is about to go down or something just going haywire on the floor, I always watched for the floor director to see what they do. I’ve done this for decades and as soon as I saw Keith run and other members start to run, I could just tell by how they were moving, there was a problem. I had set it up in a way with my photographer so that I could have two IFB’s and listen to what was being said on the floor, and as soon as Jim McGovern from Massachusetts was providing, they cut the visual feed but the audio was still up. So I’m listening. I’ve known when they get into security situations, I’ve never seen it happen before but there was always a concern about State of the Union because you always have government there. And like I said, this is a very similar thing. My point was as soon as I heard Jim McGovern start to give them instructions, under your feet are escape hoods, I’ve been told that this is how it would go. It started to actually happen. That was the difference. I’ve been told that that’s the drill. This was not a drill.

Raddatz: I was on the streets of DC on 9/11 with a clear view of the smoke from the Pentagon and an even clearer view of the Capitol. We were hearing rumors that the next target of the terrorists was the Capitol. I thought of that yesterday—appalled by the thought that it was Americans attacking our symbol of democracy.  And there was zero remorse among that group on the Hill.

How were you able to focus on your job given everything that was going on?

Desjardins: With reporting, there comes a real responsibility. Especially for the last few years, I’ve really felt the need to focus on calmly observing and reporting everything I can. I had never faced a violent mob before this, but I had faced elements of that same anger. And I did have to report on conflicting views of the different political parties and the messages they were sending. My past experiences of reporting in situations that have been confrontational, tense and chaotic helped me to focus at the Capitol this week.

Haake: I’ve gotten entirely too much practice at this after spending so much of the summer covering protests and occasionally riots. It’s a disassociative experience. You just shut off the part of your brain that says ‘this is happening to you’ and cover the story in front of you. You just on reporting what you’re seeing. The feelings come later.

Hunt: It’s what we do. We’re reporters. I’m a reporter. I wanted to run toward the Capitol to figure out what’s going on; my background is as a newswire reporter and staying in front of the camera was in some ways agonizing, but I couldn’t take the camera with me into the Capitol and we had been locked in place anyway. I’ve been a reporter for a dozen years and focusing and reporting and staying calm and collected during an event like this is simply the job description. But after it was over, going home and having a glass of wine with my husband and watching my son sleep on the baby monitor – it was much harder to stay composed then. This place has been a second home to me for more than 10 years. I love covering the Capitol, I love wandering the marble hallways, I love being a small part of the history of our country and I’ve never lost the awe I felt when I first walked into this place. I feel indescribably sad about what happened.

Londoño: As a journalist, your instinct is to focus on your job. You look at everything through a different lens. You’re there to tell the story. I forgot about Cristina Londoño the person and focused on Cristina, the Noticias Telemundo correspondent who was inside the Capitol with the responsibility of informing our viewers.

Pegues: I’ve been doing this for a long time. You end up reacting to the situation, and as best you can, relay information to the public in real time. I try to be as real as I can be in moments like this. I believe I’m at my best when there is chaos around me. That’s what that was.

Pergram: Well, you realize the gravity of the story. You realize the importance of the story as dark as it may be. And therefore, you are a witness to history, an event you might not want to be. But you understand as a journalist the importance of getting it right and communicating it in the right terms and using the right verbiage and helping the public understand why this is so crucial and why what happened today was so different. You don’t know what’s going to happen today, things just kind of happen when they happen in terms of historical events.

We knew it was going to be a big day, so you’re kind of prepared in that sense but you start to focus and say, I know this is happening now and I have to really amp up my game to make sure that I do the story justice as bad as it may be and my words are important and the context and the historical amplifications. I talked a lot about the British storming the capital in 1814. I talked about when the Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the House chamber in 1954. You have to have those kind of ready to go to understand and say, does this match that weight? The Puerto Rican nationalists didn’t try to take over the entire building, they just shot up the House chamber. The British stormed the building and took it over. That was the historical parallel to me.

Raddatz: That was not hard. I have been doing this a very long time and that is my job. And I know how important it is at a time like that to just tell the story.  But when there is an attack on our homeland and you get home with your family you are like anyone else in this country who denounces violence—you are disgusted and alarmed.

Is there anything else you can compare your experience to, from all your years of reporting? 

Desjardins: The circumstance I recall that was similar to yesterday was when I was a reporter for CNN and assigned to cover an early Tea Party rally – just myself and a few crew members.  We had the CNN bus there. A few dozen people at the rally approached the bus and started to push it as if they wanted to push it over. I stepped off the bus to talk to them one by one to calm them down. I tried to relate to them and get them to stop. Yesterday’s events were a more extreme and larger version of that. There are a few stories that have been as emotionally challenging. I covered two mining disasters in West Virginia. Those were probably among the hardest stories I’ve ever covered and the ones that have shaken me personally the most. And this is approaching that level.

Haake: I spent most of the last year covering protests, Congress and Covid, so having those stories all combine with this super-spreading riot in the halls of Congress felt like a Frankenstein’s monster version of everything 2020, in January 2021.

Hunt: No.

Londoño: I have covered news stories across the globe during my years of reporting. While I’ve been in many situations like this in Latin America, in Haiti especially, none of those moments prepared me for what I experienced yesterday. It’s different when something like this happens in the country you call home. I was one of those people who thought ‘it could never happen here,’ but it did. And it was hurtful.

Pegues: It reminds me of another big story I was caught in the middle of years ago. I was covering Superstorm Sandy as it came ashore in New York City’s Rockaways neighborhood. There was high water surrounding our live truck and fires tearing through buildings behind us. I remember and officer coming up to us and saying, “you have to tell them (the public) that we’re trapped!” I knew we were in trouble if the police were asking us for help.

The police were overwhelmed on Jan. 6 at the Capitol. They were not positioned properly for what unfolded.

Pergram: I’ve always been very concerned about safety in buildings. When I was in second grade, nearly the entire faculty at the elementary school that I attended died in a fire. It is a famous fire: Beverly Hills Supper Club in Kentucky, in May of 1977. My second grade teacher died, my bus driver died, my first grade teacher I had the year before died. I’ve always been very concerned about going into buildings and always figuring out a way out. What is the backup plan? So when you work in a building with a bulls eye on it, the US Capitol, arguably the most dangerous building in the world, symbolically in terms of what people would want to do to it, to oppose the American way of government, democracy. I’ve always thought about what do I do if something happens? There are different places depending on where I am in the capitol and including where I was reporting from yesterday. I have a plan. I won’t tell you where I would go but there are places I could go in that building that I know about because I’ve been up there for so long and hide or get out of harm’s way and they would never find me. It’s the same way as always, when I go into a restaurant or I’ve gone into casinos and it’s too crowded, I immediately think about what happened in second grade. So that’s just something that’s been instilled in me since I was 8 years old.

Raddatz: I usually try to avoid the tired phrase of “it was like a war zone.” Because while I can be reminded of Iraq or Afghanistan and the dangers of war reporting, yesterday was different—and worse.  This was an assault on American democracy by Americans—it should not happen. And I was particularly appalled at the number of veterans who were involved.

What, if anything, do you expect to change on Capitol Hill as a result of yesterday’s events? 

Haake: I suspect we’re going to end up seeing Capitol Hill security looking more like that at the White House, with less access for both journalists and the general public, but a more secure environment. So much of the security system at the Capitol was based on the assumption of good-faith access, not restriction. I don’t think that will continue now.

Hunt: They’re going to have to seriously reevaluate how they secure the building, not just for future protests but for day-to-day security–there are now pictures of dozens of weak spots on the outside of the Capitol. This place has always been special because it belongs to the public, they have a right to come into the buildings and demand their representatives listen to them. I hope that doesn’t fundamentally change but I’m worried it might, perhaps the difference between walking to an airport gate before and after Sept. 11. Politically–I just don’t know yet. There were so many moments when I thought something would change because events had just gotten too far out of control–and yet they never did change. But I do think members of Congress were fundamentally shaken by what happened and if that doesn’t change things, nothing will.

Londoño: The most bizarre feeling about what happened on Capitol Hill is that our country seemed to be unprepared for it. What is considered the temple of democracy was overrun and it left us with a bigger sense of vulnerability as a country. The obvious answer is I expect security measures to be put in place after yesterday’s incidents, and I hope it is an isolated event in the history of our country.

Pegues: They’re going to have to figure out a plan to better protect that incredible landmark.  It is part of our nation’s treasure. In a way, when it came to that protection of a landmark, we all failed that day.

Pergram: They always give more funding to the US Capitol Police after instances like this, and I would imagine that to be the case. We’ve already heard from [Rep.] Rosa DeLauro, the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, [Rep.] Tim Ryan from Ohio, who’s the chair of the Appropriations subcommittee that deals with legislative branch. They did this after [Rep.] Gabby Giffords was shot. [Rep. Steve] Scalise was shot on the baseball field, 9/11, but also what other reforms they put in. They have tremendously increased just how robust the U.S. Capitol Police are over the past 20 years. But this incident obviously takes it to another level. They’ll have to recalibrate something, whether it’s their planning or their intelligence or something. There’ve been a lot of things that they’ve sorted up there. But this one, they got wrong. Very wrong.

Raddatz: Certainly a look at how lax the preparation was. But that is not enough.

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