Los Angeles Times photographer Kent Nishimura said press access to Sen. Dianne Feinstein at the U.S. Capitol was restricted twice in May 2023.
In a May 24 article titled, “As staff shield Feinstein from the press, a picture really is worth a thousand words,” Washington, D.C.-based Nishimura said he was told Feinstein couldn’t be photographed on two consecutive days as she arrived at the Capitol. The 89-year-old Democratic senator from California had been on an extended absence since early March recuperating from illness and hospitalization, and returned to the Senate on May 10.
In an announcement the day of her return, Feinstein’s office alerted the press that the senator may be using a wheelchair “to travel around the Capitol,” and that she may have a lighter schedule, as per her doctors’ recommendation.
Nishimura, a staff photographer with the LA Times since 2017, has covered the senior senator for years. He said his article documents an atypical yet alarming denial of access at the nation’s capital.
“Restricting press access in this manner sets a dangerous precedent for the future — the severe erosion of press freedoms,” Nishimura said in a May 26 email response to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
According to Nishimura, he and other members of the press were restricted from accessing the senator on public grounds, effectively limiting the public’s right to information, especially important during a time when the senator’s ability to do her job amid her illness has come into question.
Nishimura wrote that on May 17 and 18, the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms office restricted press access during Feinstein’s arrival, “shutting doors and using the Capitol police to chase journalists out of hallways and public spaces.”
The Office of the Sergeant at Arms did not respond to phone or email requests for comment. The sergeant-at-arms, elected by U.S. senators and serving as chief law enforcement of the Senate, handles security in the Capitol and at all Senate buildings, according to its website. The office can also direct the U.S. Capitol Police.
Capitol Police Communications Director Tim Barber provided the Tracker with the following statement via email: “The United States Capitol Police works to ensure everyone is able to safely follow the rules of the press galleries.”
The Radio-TV Correspondents Galleries provide press credentials and guidelines for press access on Capitol Hill, including determining locations where photographers can place their cameras and where reporters can assemble.
According to Feinstein spokesman Adam Russell, at no time on these dates was press denied access to the senator by Feinstein’s office. He referred the Tracker to his statement in Nishimura’s article where he was quoted as saying, “Our office has not asked photographers to not take pictures of her in her wheelchair. We did ask, and continue to ask for safety reasons, that photographers and reporters give her space, particularly when entering and exiting her vehicle.”
Nishimura told the Tracker he received no further comment or explanation on press access at the U.S. Capitol.