Reporters protest new rules restricting on-camera interviews in Capitol

It’s a common scene. A reporter, microphone in hand, walking with a member of Congress down a hallway in the Capitol asking them questions about the news of the day.

But now that will be seriously curtailed, as the Senate Rules Committee has issued strict new rules to curtail the practice, saying reporters must get prior approval from both the committee staff and the senator they wish to interview.

Mike Mastrian, the director of the Senate Radio Television Gallery, relayed the new rules to reporters on Tuesday morning, according to two reporters present. He said that part of the process for getting approval for a hallway interview involves calling the chief counsel of the Rules Committee, and Mastrian provided reporters with the counsel’s number.

Such conditions mean that hallway interviews, including stakeouts outside of committee meetings or hearings, will be significantly curtailed because they are often impromptu — there would likely not be time to get pre-approval.

Reporters expressed opposition to the move, saying the new rules seem designed to prevent senators from answering uncomfortable questions.

"This is an effort to prevent reporters from doing our job and getting members on record about the key issues of the day. It will totally stop us from reporting on camera," said one veteran Capitol reporter, speaking without attribution.

"In the Senate there are very few places that are so-called designated camera stakeout positions. Most are not high traffic areas," tweeted NBC News Capitol Hill producer Frank Thorp.

The rules are already being enforced, according to several reporters. Gallery staff told reporters they had to stop filming as of Tuesday morning.

"I was just told I cannot stand outside of the Budget Committee hearing room to interview lawmakers," Bloomberg’s Kevin Cirilli tweeted.

“NBC’s coverage teams & other TV outlets were waiting to get reactions from senators at several hearings when we were told to evacuate halls," tweeted NBC News Associate Producer Mariana Sotomayor.

Other reporters encouraged viewers to get involved.

"Do YOU want to see journalists hold your elected representatives accountable? Call the Capitol and say so: 202-224-6352," tweeted NBC’s Kasie Hunt, including the number to the Senate Rules Committee.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) the ranking Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee said she opposed the new rule.

"As ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee I call on the majority to allow reporting in the Capitol to proceed as usual," Klobuchar tweeted.

Concerns about reporters crowding the Capitol have been growing as more and more journalists flock to Capitol Hill to capture the reactions of members of Congress to the latest drama engulfing the Trump administration. There have been repeated warnings sent out to reporters, especially television networks, who sometimes send multiple crews to the same event.

“Collectively, the press following Senators have become large and aggressive. We are concerned someone may get hurt," the Senate press gallery wrote in a letter to news organizations last month.

The network bureau chiefs are expected to push back on the new restrictions.

"We are still trying to get a readout of a formal decision from the rules committee, if it exists. This has been building for some time," CBS Washington Bureau Chief Chris Isham said in an email. "There have been numerous complaints about unruly behavior in the hallways."



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