On Feb. 14, 2019, U.S. Capitol Police officers pushed and shoved NPR reporter Kelsey Snell and other journalists while they were trying to interview U.S. senators in the basement of the Senate building.
“It was happening to everyone who tried to get close to a senator,” Paul McLeod, a BuzzFeed News reporter who witnessed the altercations, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
McLeod said that the Capitol Police officers physically prevented reporters from interviewing senators, even though the senators were willing to talk to the press.
McLeod said that the Capitol Police officers’ aggressive tactics were unprecedented.
The Feb. 14 altercation came in the midst of heated confrontations between members of Congress and journalists.
The day before, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez accused Henry Rodgers, a reporter from the right-wing news site The Daily Caller, of harassing him and threatened to call the police.
“I won’t answer questions to the Daily Caller, period!” Menendez said, according to Rodgers’ recording of the conversation. “You’re trash … Don’t keep harassing me anymore or I’ll race to the Capitol Police!”
Menendez did not follow through on his threat to involve the Capitol Police.
McLeod said that the presence of the political tracker shouldn’t excuse the Capitol Police’s aggressive treatment of the press in the Senate basement.
“Looks like it was all an absurd over-reaction because this [political tracker] was apparently somewhere around,” he said. “But the thing is he can't get into the actual capitol and that is where this took place. We were in an area past a security checkpoint where you needed to have ID or be a guest of someone to get in. So the whole thing made no sense.”
The National Press Club also released a statement criticizing the Capitol Police response as an over-reaction.
“Capitol Police dramatically over-reacted on Thursday and did more harm than good when they prevented accredited reporters from doing their job and further obstructed senators from communicating with the press,” NPC President Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak said in a statement.
“There was no call for the police to shove or place their hands on the reporters.”