Documentarian arrested for filming public hearing
February 1, 2012 6:21 PM   Subscribe

At the instruction of House Republicans, US Capitol Police arrested Josh Fox for filming a public hearing—a meeting of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. Josh directed Gasland (previously), a documentary on the potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used by energy companies which has been linked to causing earthquakes in Arkansas and other side effects.

Ostensibly, Josh had requested permission to film and had been unable to obtain it. Ranking Democrat on the subcommittee Brad Miller can be heard objecting in video of the arrest and later had the following to say: "I was chair of the Subcommittee for four years, and we frequently had people show up the day of a hearing to film," Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) told HuffPost. "We asked for their name, but they were told if they would not disrupt the hearing, they were free to record. A couple of times staff said, 'You're getting in the way, don't stand there,' but other than that, I do not ever recall anything like this. We certainly never turned anyone away for not providing 24 hours' notice."
posted by disillusioned (96 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Where the hell does a member of the public get off videotaping on property owned by corporations?
posted by Rykey at 6:25 PM on February 1, 2012 [62 favorites]


"Anyone who says they're a journalist is a journalist."

That one is just a smidgen problematic.
posted by Ardiril at 6:26 PM on February 1, 2012


Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.) was unavailable for comment

Fucking coward.
posted by inigo2 at 6:31 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fucking coward. - Perhaps he was waiting for a real news organization to contact him.
posted by Ardiril at 6:32 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where the hell does a member of the public get off videotaping on property owned by corporations?

Sadly, this.


Heaven forbid if anything said would be taken out of context. Or even in.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:40 PM on February 1, 2012


From the first link.

Capitol Police public information officer Sergeant Kimberly Schneider provided the following statement to HuffPost on the morning's events:

"At approximately 10:30 a.m. today, United States Capitol Police arrested Joshua Fox of Milanville, Pa. in room 2318 of the Rayburn House office building. He is charged with unlawful entry, and he is currently being processed at United States Capitol Police headquarters."


But it was a public hearing. How could he have entered unlawfully? What a goddamned farce.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:41 PM on February 1, 2012 [23 favorites]


Ahem...

Well, was he filming from an approved Free Speech Zone™? You can't expect his civil rights to be respected if he's not standing in the approved zone!

Seriously, though, every time I go to my local library and pass by a tiny box of taped-off space on the concrete, next to a sign that designates the six-by-ten-foot rectangle a "Free Speech Zone" it makes me so mad I could spit.
posted by darkstar at 6:41 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


That one is just a smidgen problematic.

Anyone doing journalism is a journalist, and documentary film has always been a legitimate and important form of journalism.

Limiting access to a public hearing in such an arbitrary way is problematic by a lot more than just a smidgen.
posted by tommyD at 6:42 PM on February 1, 2012 [18 favorites]


Wow.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:44 PM on February 1, 2012


I really did a double take when I first read the report; it seemed strange that a Republican-dominated committee would be censoring Fox.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:52 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


That one is just a smidgen problematic.

Anyone doing journalism is a journalist, and documentary film has always been a legitimate and important form of journalism.


Yup. The government does not have the right to determine who is and is not a "real" journalist. Especially at a public hearing.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:00 PM on February 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


Ardiril, you may disagree with the comment that "anyone who says they're a journalist is a journalist" but surely you can't argue that an Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker doesn't at least pass some muster.

i notice that the article contains a number of Democrats expressing their outrage, but I hope one of them will do something about it. It seems like such a clear railroading of process.

AND, who was the other camera person, the one who filmed Fox's eviction, and how come they weren't also kicked out?
posted by salishsea at 7:02 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, nominated, not winning.
posted by salishsea at 7:03 PM on February 1, 2012


Here's a symptom of what's wrong with our country today: We can't just throw him out; we have to arrest him.
posted by tyllwin at 7:06 PM on February 1, 2012 [19 favorites]


ABC's crew (which had credentials) also got booted, not just Mr. Fox, so it really wasn't about "real journalists" it was about "we don't want you to see what we're doing."

Let's not get on that derail. As others have pointed out in various blog posts on this, normal protocol for people w/out official credentials is to send them to the desk to get temporary passes, not arresting their asses.
posted by emjaybee at 7:08 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


emjaybee, ABC denied having a crew there.
posted by salishsea at 7:11 PM on February 1, 2012


This is bullshit.
posted by darkstar at 7:12 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am unclear on why Congress is able to do something without being video taped. Part of the process of entering the Capital building as a Congresscritter should be having your lapel mike put on, and every chamber should be constantly monitored by HD cameras and a secondary set of mikes.

The concept of Congress having even a shred of privacy while doing its job is completely baffling to me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:19 PM on February 1, 2012 [61 favorites]


Arresting a film crew at a public hearing is such insanely bad publicity that it almost seems like a Michael Moore type stunt to draw attention. I'm tempted to believe that Josh Fox's crew did something to provoke the arrest. Is the subcommittee actually that blindly hostile to a free press?
posted by Loudmax at 7:19 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to the HuffPo article, C-SPAN filmed the hearing anyway. Fox was just there to get higher-quality video footage for his next documentary. Fracking ridiculous.
posted by carsonb at 7:27 PM on February 1, 2012


ABC's crew (which had credentials) also got booted, not just Mr. Fox, so it really wasn't about "real journalists" it was about "we don't want you to see what we're doing."

As salishsea, noted, ABC called bullshit on that. And no, it's not a derail -- when a politician starts talking about "real" journalists, what they mean is "people who don't ask tough questions". Mike Huckabee pulled that shit here as governor of Arkansas, with the state's fourth-largest paper.

"Real journalists" == "we don't want you to see what we're doing".
posted by middleclasstool at 7:30 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hope a hundred people show up with cameras tomorrow.
posted by hypersloth at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ardiril writes "That one is just a smidgen problematic."

Can you elaborate? Seems to me the only practical definition of a journalist is anyone who self identifies as such otherwise freedom of the press is meaningless.
posted by Mitheral at 7:32 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the clarification re ABC. But arresting someone instead of just telling them to go get credentials is still over the line.
posted by emjaybee at 7:34 PM on February 1, 2012


Pope Guilty: "The concept of Congress having even a shred of privacy while doing its job is completely baffling to me."

But how are they supposed to do their shady back-room dea-- OH WAIT
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:37 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"documentary filmmaker" does not necessarily equal "journalist".
posted by Ardiril at 7:45 PM on February 1, 2012


"Public hearing" never equals "you can't record this".
posted by middleclasstool at 7:47 PM on February 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


Well, here we are.
posted by fuq at 7:51 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]



James O'Keefe is still free, right ?

This guy has the wrong friends, clearly.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:52 PM on February 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


Anyone recall that article from last year comparing Julian Assange with the first printer who printed British parliamentary debates? Yes, they arrested the earlier printers who printed parliamentary debates.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:55 PM on February 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


An article from a source with a greater level of objectivity, instead of HuffPo, would be nice.
posted by Ardiril at 7:55 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


>"Anyone who says they're a journalist is a journalist."

That one is just a smidgen problematic.


it's really not. It was a public hearing. Anyone who decides to film it is a journalist. I'm recognized as a "journalist" when I'm called for jury duty and disclose that I'm a developer for a documentary website. Someone who actually produces news is absolutely a journalist if I can't serve on a jury.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:55 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here's a symptom of what's wrong with our country today: We can't just throw him out; we have to arrest him.

The cops in the video repeatedly asked if he wanted to take his camera and leave. He said no.

Also, the police officers seemed to really not want to be there.
posted by gjc at 7:57 PM on February 1, 2012


Well, obviously they're not working secret if it's going out via C-SPAN, now are they? And while you need cable to watch it and things go out at odd hours sometimes, all footage going back several years is freely available on the C-SPAN website. Also you can buy production-quality footage from them for a nominal fee for use in documentaries. So the secrecy complaints are baseless in this case.

Not that I'm approving this, but you probably need a permit to bring a camera into a Congressional hearing. As an ex-film guy, you generally need a permit. Fox says he disagrees with that policy, but it doesn't seem to present problems for any other professional producer. Not bothering to apply for a permit suggests to me that he was more interested in getting thrown out than actually filming. Arresting him was stupid, but he's having the last laugh since he gets great footage from it.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:59 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, there's that -- his documentary probably will get a tenfold viewership as a result of the arrest.
posted by darkstar at 8:12 PM on February 1, 2012


Having a camera does not necessarily make you a journalist. It's very easy to get press passes, and it makes life easier for everyone else to do so in advance. I can't buy into his complaints about lack of access when practically everything Congress does is already transcribed and taped.

Anyone recall that article from last year comparing Julian Assange with the first printer who printed British parliamentary debates? Yes, they arrested the earlier printers who printed parliamentary debates.

Unlike the UK, the US has no equivalent of Crown copyright. I have never had the slightest difficulty accessing records of Congressional activity, including committees. Only once have I not been able to download something I wanted: a 1995 report that never got printed and distributed due to a procedural error on a budget amendment for that purpose. Thanks to the advice of some MeFites, I got in touch with the librarian for the relevant committee who offered either to photocopy it for me or make it available for copying/scanning if I was visiting DC. The federal government's inner workings are already open, and there's money being spent right now to make them even more accessible (rather than force people to use the GPO website, which is old and not very user-friendly). By the end of next year the goal is to have all Congressional proceedings XML-ised in something close to real time and available as feeds on data.gov.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:13 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to HuffPo, Fox did apply for a permit the day before but was denied. I would like to see a more detailed account of the events.
posted by Loudmax at 8:16 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's Andy Harris' (PDF) Opening Statement for the meeting where he chastises the EPA for, among other things, a lack of transparency.
posted by JackarypQQ at 8:18 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having a camera makes you a journalist.
posted by Loudmax at 8:20 PM on February 1, 2012


" I can't buy into his complaints about lack of access when practically everything Congress does is already transcribed and taped. "

Which is sort of to the point, isn't it? What on Earth would the committee have to gain by doing this?

The only way to answer that question is to watch what they do, and verify that the transcripts match what happens. Wasn't there a recent kerfuffle that wound up with transcripts being altered a day later to delete the events recorded? Memory fails me at the moment on the exact events.

Note that the permit thing is a lame and flimsy excuse; there are numerous statements from congresspersons pointing out that not only do people film without a permit all the time, not one of them has been thrown out for filming, much less arrested. Fox attempted to get a permit, or credentials, but was either denied or wasn't timely about it.

As for C-Span, do be aware that the Republicans shut off the C-Span feed the other day when Democrats had the floor and were attacking them for some reason.

The whole "real journalist" argument is so tiresome. True Scotsmen and real artists only drink beer with real journalists I suppose.

Sorry if this seems disjointed, I am a little tired and creating a flowing narrative would just result in a wall of text anyway.
posted by Xoebe at 8:34 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any democratic government is employed by it's citizens to do things on their behalf. And a press pass is an administrative detail to make things run smoothly, not a golden ticket bestowing the right for a citizen to see what their government is doing on their behalf. All citizens have that right, whether senators like it or not.

I'd be fired if I tried to stop my employer from looking at my work, or had him arrested because he wanted to know what I was doing or record my processes. How is this any different?
posted by harriet vane at 8:35 PM on February 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


"the only practical definition of a journalist" is someone who applies for a press pass at the Congressional Will Call window and who then subsequently receives one.
posted by Ardiril at 8:36 PM on February 1, 2012


Obvious PR stunt is obvious. Fox himself admits that this was an exercise in "civil disobedience."

Washington Post
: “This was an act of civil disobedience, yes, done in an impromptu fashion,” said Fox in an emailed statement later.

And in addition, the ABC crew was not legit, per USA Today: "Additionally, an ABC spokeswoman said the network did not assign anyone to the hearing, indicating someone was impersonating a film crew."

Well respected left-wing documentarians like Alex Gibney and Michael Moore use C-SPAN footage all the time. I'm finding it difficult to muster outrage that Fox wasn't able to get his perfect camera angle for his upcoming feature.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:39 PM on February 1, 2012


Cute slogan, but professionals get their press passes in advance. It isn't hard, every public body has a staffer or an office dedicated to that very activity. Everyone in the industry knows full well that shooting on public property without a permit can result in your ejection, even on a park or a beach that happens to be federal or state property. The first amendment isn't an excuse to just blow that off. When you're on government property, the government wants to know who to hold accountable in the event that anything goes wrong - like you damage something with your tripod, for example, or the sound guy hits someone with a boompole.

Doesn't matter if it's a park, a prison, an executive office, a police station, a legislative building. If you're shooting for commercial purposes then you need a permit. I have shot in all those places and government employees have been unfailingly accommodating because I showed respect for their permit process. I've also been (politely) ejected on guerilla shoots where I didn't have a permit, and told how to get one.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:40 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


As for C-Span, do be aware that the Republicans shut off the C-Span feed the other day when Democrats had the floor and were attacking them for some reason.

Bogus. Democrats asked a question as a pro-forma session came to a close, knowing the mics were going to be switched off as the session was gaveled out. You can watch it here. Steny Hoyer knew perfectly well the session was over, and the Republicans made the same kinds of complaints when Nancy Pelosi was speaker.

It's free publicity - wait until the proceedings are done, then complain that your question was ignored by your opponents. Activists sometimes abuse public comment periods at city or county meetings if they know it's on camera, since it assures them of a mention on the nightly news. Not that I'm advising you to abuse the public comment period for some free publicity, mind, since it can backfire on you.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:54 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess I have a question:

Was this hearing actually being shown on C-SPAN? I look at the listings of events for the day on the C-SPAN website, and don't see it listed.
posted by hippybear at 8:59 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obvious PR stunt is obvious. Fox himself admits that this was an exercise in "civil disobedience."

Washington Post: “This was an act of civil disobedience, yes, done in an impromptu fashion,” said Fox in an emailed statement later.


Impromptu: Adjective - Done without being planned, organized, or rehearsed: "an impromptu press conference".

He didn't plan to get arrested. He decided not to cooperate when they tried to kick him out, as a spur of the moment exercise in civil disobedience.

Therefore, not a PR stunt. Just exercising his rights, or attempting to.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:11 PM on February 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


BobbyVan: "Well respected left-wing documentarians like Alex Gibney and Michael Moore use C-SPAN footage all the time. I'm finding it difficult to muster outrage that Fox wasn't able to get his perfect camera angle for his upcoming feature."

C-SPAN does not cover every hearing. They only cover a very small fraction of them, in fact.

I don't know about the House, but the Senate can hold, record, and televise up to 12 hearings simultaneously (the House's recording operation is a bit less centralized and sophisticated, so it's hard to give an exact number for them). CSPAN doesn't have the budget or staff to provide that sort of coverage.

It's pretty rare to have 12 going on at once, but not at all unusual to have 6 running simultaneously, and 12 in a day. And that's just for one half of the legislature (which is, in turn, only one third of the Federal Government). Coincidentally, there's a growing level of support for placing cameras in the Supreme Court, providing even more material for CSPAN to cover. Televised meetings of congress are actually a relatively new thing – live coverage of the House began in 1979, and the Senate in 1986.

The Senate's pretty good about recording every public hearing that goes on (I should know; I work for the guys who do it), and I'm a bit befuddled that the House were taking the time to obfuscate a public meeting. Public hearings and debates are all about grandstanding by their very nature; if some congressmen want to have a conversation in private, they're welcome to do it while the cameras aren't rolling, and there really isn't any effective way of stopping them.

As far as I can tell, a film crew either faked or didn't obtain press passes, some Republicans decided to make a point about it, and the Democrats cried victim. There's plenty of blame to go around, and this kind of publicity stunt severely undermines the credibility of the documentarian, as it would not have been difficult for the crew to properly request press passes or coverage of the hearing.

Obligatory: These opinions are my own, etc
posted by schmod at 9:15 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if they would have still arrested him if he hadn't pretended to be a journalist, but just an average Joe with a full camera crew in tow.
posted by Ardiril at 9:17 PM on February 1, 2012


All this fascinating nuance aside, which law was being enforced here? Unlawful entry to a public Senate Chamber? Interesting.
posted by salishsea at 9:32 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, a film crew either faked or didn't obtain press passes

Or he was unreasonably denied a pass. From the article:

Fox apparently had applied for credentialing the day before the hearing but had been unable to obtain official permission to film. He had asked a credentialed film crew to tape the proceedings on his behalf but was informed that this was not permitted.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:45 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone discovered behaving as though they have rights will be arrested.
posted by Goofyy at 9:47 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fascinating that some people here don't find this outrageous. As long as you have your ID papers, you'll be OK.
posted by maxwelton at 10:25 PM on February 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


How to shoot video in Congress. It's real easy, and seems to work fine for everyone else.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:27 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


anigbrowl, I appreciate your insight and commentary in this thread.
posted by davidmsc at 10:57 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems House and Senate rules prohibit an out of town reporter from setting up a tripod without an extra level of clearance.
http://radiotv.house.gov/gallery-use/rules.shtml
Out of town reporters are not eligible for regular membership and should contact the House or Senate Gallery staffs for temporary credentials.
Is probably what he did.

SECTION (V)
Free Press Areas (see below map)
Videotaping or filming with a tripod in any other area requires a tripod permit. Approval through the appropriate Gallery is needed. Free press areas are designated for stand up use at all times. Credentialed members of the press may use these areas at all times. Crews may set up tripods in these areas without obtaining tripod permits.
Tripods are to be set up only on grassy areas (except at the location near the fountain).

Is probably what he technically did wrong.

He was asked to leave. At that point generally you either have to leave or are guilty of some sort of trespass statue. Whether or not the person accusing him of trespass at that point had the authority to have the police remove him has to do with DC trespass laws, as well as Senate and House rules.
posted by JackarypQQ at 10:58 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


He trolled them, they took the bait.
posted by j03 at 11:00 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


As to the first general contention of Fox's critics here, that he's not a journalist. That's bullshit.

The reasoning that underpins the First Amendment comes from having as expansive a view of press and journalists as possible — the general idea is that if you are recording events with an intent to disseminate them to the public, you're a journalist. The idea that journalists are only journalists if they're credentialed is antithetical to the spirit of the First Amendment, and frankly unamerican.

Documentarians are entirely journalists. Journalism does not necessitate a lack of opinion or viewpoint; it does not necessitate a medium. Fox is a journalist.

As to the second contention, that Fox's lack of credentials in this instance was appropriately remedied by his arrest? Also bullshit.

The special, vital and protected status of journalists in America requires that they be regulated as little as necessary. The regulations here in general are to make sure that the gallery isn't overcrowded. As there was no danger of overcrowding, there was no reason to object to the filming. Further, as these rules are not generally enforced, enforcing them now in order to deny a critic footage of a public meeting is applying rules in a way that isn't neutral with regard to content — they were explicitly applied in a way that discriminated against negative coverage.

Playing the apologetic for these House Republicans is bullshit, and shamefully unamerican.
posted by klangklangston at 12:10 AM on February 2, 2012 [23 favorites]


Why do I get the sinking feeling the Democrats' objections were simply a partisan maneuver?
posted by klarck at 3:33 AM on February 2, 2012


I urge people to contact their Representative critters and demand: 1) an apology of the whole House to Fox, 2) a change in House rules so this rule cannot be abused again, 3) individual statements from their offices stating their outrage at the actions of the Chair of this Committee.

It will take, perhaps, 10 minutes of your time and could make a real difference

The only way to give the Democrats spine sometimes is to shove it down their throats. The only way to blunt the worst tendencies of the Republicans is to cause them to fear for their power base.

Regardless of Fox's status as a journalist, the simple fact is that this rule is not enforced unless the hearing is being disrupted. There is a long history on this. This was clearly a case of the rule being enforced because of who Fox is and the effectiveness of his previous work. Censorship based on viewpoint is the most odious form of attack on the First Amendment and a genuine and real threat to the working of our democracy when engaged in by the members of the House of Representatives.
posted by driley at 3:36 AM on February 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The idea that journalists are only journalists if they're credentialed is antithetical to the spirit of the First Amendment, and frankly unamerican.

I cannot favorite this statement enough, thank you.
posted by gimonca at 6:38 AM on February 2, 2012


Quibbling over the definition of journalist seems to be missing the goddamn point. It's a fucking public meeting and any goddamn person who wants to should be allowed to be there and record whatever the fuck they want, for any reason.
posted by odinsdream at 6:50 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Spineless bunch of fucks. God this is so fucking depressing. This whole "just doin' my job" thing is going to doom this country, if it hasn't already.
posted by odinsdream at 6:53 AM on February 2, 2012


Did anybody argue that Fox wasn't a journalist?

The rules about press passes on the Hill exist for a number of well-founded reasons. Primarily, there's simply not enough room for every member of the press to bring a full camera crew to each hearing.

The current system encourages members of the press to team up and share footage to avoid duplicative coverage. The big news agencies will usually pool their resources, hire a single camera crew, and share the footage. Given the cutthroat nature of the media industry, this arrangement has actually worked out surprisingly well for almost everyone involved. You could make the argument that this unfairly disadvantages small players, and probably be right; I'm honestly not sure what accommodations are made for independent news agencies. [It's also worth noting that the amount of interest that the media has in covering the Hill is a lot less than what most people imagine it to be. Coverage of congressional hearings rarely attracts eyeballs or sells papers. Politico are the only news source in recent memory to have provided compelling and commercially-viable coverage of the Legislative Branch.]

The "free speech zones" described above are numerous, and are located throughout the capitol complex. Their reason for existence is not to restrain the press, but rather, to prevent camera crews from blocking corridors and fire exits. Camera crews are allowed to set up in nearly every location large enough to handle them. For the sake of the staff, camera crews are also kept out of the cafeterias, elevators, and other areas where the presence of an aggressive news crew would be unreasonably disruptive to the staff or dangerous.

If the House Energy subcommittee conspired to make sure that the press were barred from the event, that's a bad thing, and deserves an investigation. If press passes aren't being approved for independent journalists in a timely manner, that's also a bad thing. However, hearings are often scheduled well in advance, and I'm really having a tough time taking Josh Fox's side here, even though I agree with him on principle.

Again. These are my own opinions. I'm not directly involved in any of this, but happen to work alongside it.
posted by schmod at 8:00 AM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The rules about press passes on the Hill exist for a number of well-founded reasons. Primarily, there's simply not enough room for every member of the press to bring a full camera crew to each hearing.

It's blatantly obvious from the video that there was no obstruction going on here. That is an excuse. Maybe it applies in other cases, but certainly not this one.
posted by odinsdream at 8:22 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did anybody argue that Fox wasn't a journalist?

I was going to say Ardiril but on review they don't quite say that:

Ardiril: "Fucking coward. - Perhaps he was waiting for a real news organization to contact him."
and
Ardiril: ""the only practical definition of a journalist" is someone who applies for a press pass at the Congressional Will Call window and who then subsequently receives one."

But Fox didn't have a press pass so ergo Ardiril is arguing Fox isn't a journalist.
posted by Mitheral at 8:34 AM on February 2, 2012


There appears to be a recording of the webcast here. A reading of the rule requiring the credential is the first issue. I'll be watching it later, but they are saying it is all there in it's entirety. Not saying I condone the arrest, but here is the recording.

http://science.house.gov/hearing/energy-and-environment-subcommittee-epa-hydraulic-fracturing-research
posted by Big_B at 8:56 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Josh Fox has done more than anybody in Congress or the Senate to help people affected by oil/gas drilling and fracking. If it was a stunt, so what. Attention needs to be called to this problem.
posted by narcoleptic at 8:59 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


So now he's made it harder for other independent documentarians and journalists who want to visit and film in Congress. He's playing on people's ignorance of how professionals do it to get free publicity for his project, but the cost of this will fall upon other independent filmmakers who face an increased level of scrutiny and security checks. It's asshole behavior, which is referred to in the trade as 'burning a location' - making it harder for others to film there by deliberately ignoring or breaking the conditions of shooting.

Would you be OK with Breitbart or that Kelly guy doing this to a Democratic committee? I doubt it somehow.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:09 AM on February 2, 2012


Ardiril is arguing Fox isn't a journalist

Wrong! I was arguing that Fox didn't go through the procedures that establish him as a journalist. As for the "Fucking coward" comment, the "real news organization" to which I was referring was someone other than Huffington Post, an organization I do not recognize as staffed by journalists--and by extension, not worthy of being used as a source for an FPP.
posted by Ardiril at 10:18 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


So now he's made it harder for other independent documentarians and journalists who want to visit and film in Congress.

I don't think that is true at all. They explicitly state (as many in the thread have mentioned) that they need to be credentialed. So now they know that they just need to get credentialed, and from then on they can't possibly be excluded.

Would you be OK with Breitbart or that Kelly guy doing this to a Democratic committee? I doubt it somehow.

I'd be ok with it. I don't think anyone would disagree that we need more transparency. Even if they did it in a silly, mocking, or dishonest manner, surely it would give "the other side" some cannon fodder as it has for some of you.
posted by Big_B at 10:24 AM on February 2, 2012


Journalism: I know it when I see it. ;-P
posted by Ardiril at 10:34 AM on February 2, 2012


"The rules about press passes on the Hill exist for a number of well-founded reasons. Primarily, there's simply not enough room for every member of the press to bring a full camera crew to each hearing. "

Again, given that this wasn't a problem for the hearing in question, and that these rules are not traditionally enforced absent that problem, enforcing them in this case is not viewpoint neutral and is political stifling of free speech.

"So now he's made it harder for other independent documentarians and journalists who want to visit and film in Congress. He's playing on people's ignorance of how professionals do it to get free publicity for his project, but the cost of this will fall upon other independent filmmakers who face an increased level of scrutiny and security checks. It's asshole behavior, which is referred to in the trade as 'burning a location' - making it harder for others to film there by deliberately ignoring or breaking the conditions of shooting."

You're inventing a lot of facts to justify your belief that he's an asshole rather than moving from the general presumptions of freedom minimally restrained. You've shown no evidence that this will make it harder for other independent journalists; you've shown no evidence that he did this for publicity. And you're ignoring that these regulations are generally ignored.

Would you be OK with Breitbart or that Kelly guy doing this to a Democratic committee? I doubt it somehow."

Yes, of course I would be fine with it. It's just filming. Any legislator holding a public meeting should encourage scrutiny — any government official at all holding a public meeting should encourage scrutiny. I can disagree with Breitbart's selective editing and editorial misrepresentations without saying that he shouldn't be allowed to film. Is your reflexive partisanship rearing up here?
posted by klangklangston at 10:36 AM on February 2, 2012


"Wrong! I was arguing that Fox didn't go through the procedures that establish him as a journalist."

He had the means and intent of disseminating news to the public. Demanding credentials is absurd.
posted by klangklangston at 10:39 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


So now they know that they just need to get credentialed, and from then on they can't possibly be excluded.

Everyone who has shot anything more complicated than a skateboard video knows that. It's in chapter 1 of every book on film production: get permits.

Klangklangston, I made my living in independent film/TV for most of a decade. Go ask any film student or professional and they'll tell you the same thing. Permits are a fact of life. Fox is being completely disingenuous in order to promote his next film. Getting thrown out on camera is a well-worn publicity tactic, and all I'm doing is pointing out that it has a social cost for other filmmakers. Read a book on guerilla or documentary filmmaking and you will likely see this issue discussed. This is the equivalent of saying your freedoms are under attack because you got a parking ticket.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:50 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


And you're ignoring that these regulations are generally ignored.

My experience is that they're generally enforced, and inflexibly at that. The Democratic commitee member is scoring a point here, which is fine, but think about it: do you seriously think the politicians have the time or inclination to check people's paperwork or audit media credential applicants? That's what the security staffers do. As someone astutely pointed out above, he trolled them by not doing things the regular way, and they bit.

Complaining about the demand for credentials overloks that fact that the capitol is a very busy place. Rent a pro camera and start randomly filming in a local court or city hall: someone will show up within minutes asking for your press pass because you didn't check in or follow the ground rules about where/how to shoot. It's not a partisan issue, it's a pragmatic one.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:07 AM on February 2, 2012


He had the means and intent of disseminating news to the public.

That still doesn't make him a journalist in my book. HuffPo also has "the means and intent" yet I don't consider them journalists either.
posted by Ardiril at 11:12 AM on February 2, 2012


All this hoopla about him not getting a permit doesn't make sense to me.. It sounds like those without credentials can get temporary ones (is this true? how does this work?) and, from Politico:
Fox said that he submitted several formal requests to tape the hearing, but that those requests were denied since his crew did not have Capitol media credentials.

Fox said he got in touch with a Science Committee staffer to see if he could appeal the decision directly to subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.), but that he never got a response, despite being promised one by 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
It sounds to me like he made multiple reasonable attempts to acquire a permit and in fact was even promised a response the evening before the hearing and never got it.
posted by mbatch at 11:15 AM on February 2, 2012


Luckily, Ardiril, your personal opinion on the matter isn't the law.

There are plenty of "real" journalists that I think are awful hacks but that doesn't make them any less a journalist.. it just makes them bad journalists in my opinion.
posted by mbatch at 11:16 AM on February 2, 2012


Looks like the official response is here:
Section 9(j) of the Committee’s rules expressly states that “Personnel providing coverage by the television and radio media shall be currently accredited to the Radio and Television Correspondents' Galleries.” The individual removed was not accredited by the House Radio and TV Gallery
The criteria for the Gallery are here, and are somewhat detailed, but of course we have no details about why he was denied a permit.
posted by mbatch at 11:28 AM on February 2, 2012


Mbatch, there's a procedure for getting a credential and Fox was doing an end-run around it by trying to get clearance from people who have more important jobs to do. I even posted the web page for getting credentialed upthread. It's not rocket science or a secret society. Appealing the decision to the subcommittee chairman? Pseudo-legalistic BS. That's like asking to speak to the mayor because you don't have a shooting permit for city hall. Notice how Fox never asserts that he applied for a media credential. Why not? If he did, let him put in a FOIA request for a cooy of his rejected application and I'll change my mind when he produces it. I support everyone's right to visit and film public institutions, but I also respect the procedures established for doing so.

As I said, I've been thrown off/out of government property before. I got over myself and found the people who issue and enforce permits are very helpful if their procedures are respected.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:49 AM on February 2, 2012


Notice how Fox never asserts that he applied for a media credential

From the article:
"Fox apparently had applied for credentialing the day before the hearing"
posted by inigo2 at 11:52 AM on February 2, 2012


The article also talks about how people have filmed without credentials and without problem before. It's only in this case that they got arrested for it.
posted by inigo2 at 11:54 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


anigbrowl: "Would you be OK with Breitbart or that Kelly guy doing this to a Democratic committee? I doubt it somehow."

Right. Once you start mixing journalism with activism, that veers into what we consider lobbying. There are also another set of rules for that.

If he indeed did this as a stunt, it becomes very difficult to label him as a journalist, as journalism is necessarily a passive activity by its very nature. He can't play both sides of the card here; if he did not show up with the sole intention of gathering and documenting facts and information, it is very difficult to label what he was doing as journalism.

He may have been acting as a journalist on other occasions, but he pretty clearly wasn't doing that yesterday (I suppose we could say that he was being an activist on behalf of journalists, although I don't want to bury this discussion in semantics).

If Breitbart wants to play by the rules, and bring a camera crew into a hearing, I think he should be more than welcome to do it. If the House are indeed playing by their own rules, those rules strike me as being eminently reasonable and pragmatic, and should prevent Breitbart from engaging in his usual antics (which rely heavily on editing, and won't work if there were other cameras in the room).

klangklangston: "Again, given that this wasn't a problem for the hearing in question, and that these rules are not traditionally enforced absent that problem"

I'm guessing that the "we have people show up with less than 24-hours notice" comment applies to DC-based news agencies and reporters who hold permanent press credentials. That's a bit of a different ballgame, and is addressed specifically in the rules. This is especially pertinent, because Fox appears to have posed as being a member of one of these organizations with a permanent press pass.

anigbrowl: "Klangklangston, I made my living in independent film/TV for most of a decade. Go ask any film student or professional and they'll tell you the same thing. Permits are a fact of life. "

You're absolutely right, and I don't disagree with you in principle. But......

DC's a bit of an odd case. I randomly happen to know a thing or two about independent filmmaking and permitting in the DC area, as I live with a bunch of independent filmmakers. Most of them attempt to skirt their way around the process, as it's notoriously difficult to obtain permits in DC, and the permits are rarely checked or enforced on non-Federal property if your shoot doesn't look "permanent." Don't film downtown; don't get in anybody's way; limit outdoor shooting; look like you're filming B-roll; keep gear and crew to a minimum, and you'll almost never be bothered.

The culture of applying for permits in all instances does not exist here to the extent that it does in other cities. Most of the guys I've talked to wish that it was possible to do things by-the-book, but the regulatory process is so convoluted that they have no choice but to sidestep the law.

Complicating the issue even further is the myriad of federal agencies and police forces that have jurisdiction in the various parts of DC. The DC government doesn't have the authority to grant filming permits for large swaths of the city. If you want to film someone driving down the street, you could end up needing to apply for a dozen different permits. I've ranted about this before; the Park Service owns several main roads, and owns thousands of "parks" throughout the city that are the size of slightly larger than my bathroom.

Oddly, the Architect of the Capitol does occasionally grant permits to people who want to film inside the Capitol itself. It's rare, and virtually never done for anything controversial, but has happened from time to time. Recently, some filmmakers were concerned about the ownership of the plaza in front of the Capitol being transferred from the National Park Service (who are a pain for filmmakers to deal with) to the Architect of the Capitol (who are even more of a pain for filmmakers to deal with).

Similarly, DC provides few, if any incentives to filmmakers who choose to shoot their films here. In the past, other cities have offered huge tax-related incentives for filmmakers to shoot on-location, largely due to the free publicity, increased spending at local businesses, and tourism boosts that this generates. DC's broke, has surprisingly little stake in the region's tourism industry, and (probably correctly) didn't think that filming on non-federal property would have been very flattering for the city until very recently. (I wonder if Baltimore provided any incentives for The Wire to be filmed on-location....)

There's a reason why you rarely ever see a DC scene in a film that was produced on-location.
posted by schmod at 12:01 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


anigbrowl, I'm not arguing that he should have had a permit.. it's just that he seems to have applied for one and was denied. Why was he denied?.. also, I'm confused about the permit versus credential thing - is a permit required for the gallery and in order to obtain a permit you are required to have credentials (i.e. they are two different things) -- if so, it sounds like he tried to get the permit without the credentials.

The bottom line is that if he made a reasonable attempt at least 24hrs earlier to acquire whatever he needed (credentials and/or permit) than I'm on his side. If he skipped a step (which is certainly not clear to me if he did or did not) then bad on him.

But it reads to me like his "end-run" of trying to get clearance from "people who have more important jobs to do" was his second attempt - after he was initially denied - in which case maybe it wasn't so much of an end-run and more of a appeal to a higher authority?
posted by mbatch at 12:14 PM on February 2, 2012


Techdirt weighs in.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:21 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fox on MSNBC: Josh Fox joins NewsNation to talk about the arrest and explain his comments that he’s been blacklisted from Capitol Hill.
posted by homunculus at 12:24 PM on February 2, 2012


The organization responsible for overseeing journalist credentials in this case is the House Radio-TV Gallery, which is not administered by the government but by other journalists, who decide the criteria for credentialing (although the individual decisions are made by staffers who work there, who I think are technically government employees).

mbatch, in this instance he should have applied for temporary credentials, since he is not a full-time Capitol Hill correspondent. It's not clear if he was denied credentials from the Radio-TV Gallery or if he was trying to get permission from the committee itself or what.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:38 PM on February 2, 2012


Fox on MSNBC

Damn, this story is just rife with confusing headlines.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:41 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh my God you guys. What's wrong with "Welcome Mr. Fox, please have a seat and feel free to set up your camera. I have no doubt you'll be interested in our deliberations today."

One simple gesture from a committee chair and all is well. No need for stunts, no need for arrests and no need for parsing the minutiae of Congressional process.

What kills good policy is not challenges to principles, but fear. Kindness is the antidote to that.
posted by salishsea at 12:45 PM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Fox apparently had applied for credentialing the day before the hearing"

Apparently? In other words, we don't really know. Me, if I'm going to DC for a hearing calendared weeks or months in advance, I'd start the credential process before I bought the plane ticket. I don't work in media any more and have never covered Congress, but I do follow and sometimes attend state business. Where seating is limited you often need to RSVP your attendance; if you want to be in the reserved press section then that means advance planning, not 'hey I want to come round with my HD setup tomorrow so drop everything and expedite my application mkay.' Doing this stuff well in advance is line production 101 for the simple reason that if one doesn't, it's likely to blow a large hole in the schedule and therefore in the budget.

Schmod, I take your point about filming in DC - overlapping jurisdictions are a pain, and some are far easier to deal with than others. On small shoots, skipping the permit for exteriors and budgeting in the risk premium is a viable strategy. On the other hand, having a permit has allowed me to stay overnight on Alcatraz, shoot on the roof of Oakland City Hall and all sorts of other exotic places; I just look at them as one among many creative solutions to getting the footage one needs. I think we're on the same page about Fox being experienced enough to know how this works. In this case, the value of the publicity vastly outweighs the value of any footage he could possibly have shot over and above getting footage of the same proceeding from C-SPAN. That, too, is a creative solution to the high cost of marketing a film to the public. I'm pretty sure he's seen a big uptick in his iTunes and Netflix analytics over the last 24 hours and that that alone has already paid for the DC trip.

Oh my God you guys. What's wrong with "Welcome Mr. Fox, please have a seat and feel free to set up your camera. I have no doubt you'll be interested in our deliberations today."

Nothing, except that committees and other branches of Congress have delegated those tasks to the media credential office because it's more efficient. This hearing was not very crowded, but on matters of greater public interest (important or not; consider sports stars testifying to Congress about steroids) there are potentially a great many spectators and it starts to interfere with the actual legislative business. Same reason they don't let people go down onto the floor and interview representatives and senators in the middle of debates; it's public property, it's the public's business, the first amendment provides various rights to all Americans etc., etc., but if you had news crews wandering through the middle of legislative sessions it would quickly turn into a clusterfuck. (Indeed, back in the 19th century when populations were smaller and rules fewer, floor debates sometimes did turn into a clusterfuck for one reason or another.)

The credentialing procedure is annoying and bureaucratic, but the government is a large bureaucracy and that's how bureaucracies work. Go film on federal land or in a federal building without a permit, and an inflexible and unreasonable uniformed officer will likely show up and eject you without engaging any of your entirely reasonable arguments about public property and constitutional freedom. Come back a week later with a permit and the same person will treat you like a VIP and maybe even show where you can get a better shot or suchlike.

The reason I have a bee in my bonnet about this is that complaints about bureaucracy often involve a lot of 'we the people' arguments to support a claim on behalf of 'me the individual.' Journalist, documentarian, or simply member of the public attending a hearing - any hearing, in any official building - you do not represent the entire population, but a segment thereof. The population as a whole also has an interest in the business of government getting conducted in a timely fashion, rather than having it slowed down for people who think they are the most important thing in the room. You can see this all the time in local government during public comment periods; some people plan ahead and are ready to make a persuasive presentation in the three minutes they have available, some people just waffle or talk about their pet issue and and act surprised when they get timed out and are repeatedly asked to sit down.

Sorry to be so harsh, but from the perspective of someone who has done this professionally, these complaints are petulant and adolescent. Reporting to the public is a worthy calling, but it does not give you an automatic access-all-areas pass onto public property. The legislators and staff are also working on behalf of the public and have had some authority delegated to them for this purpose, even though we may not approve of how they wield it at all times. The whole basis of a legislature is to establish rules and procedures, not to decide everything on an ad-hoc basis. Unsurprisingly, they also have rules and procedures for running their own operations on a day-to-day basis, and expect visitors to abide by those. For Fox, it's a one-off thing, he may only visit Congress a few times a year to talk to politicians about the issue he covers. For the people who work there, they walk past probably 100 cameras a day, and it's not unreasonable to have some rules about how and when cameras and camera crews are operated in their workplace. Cripes, when I used to run sound on feature films, the main unit would often get frustrated with the behind-the-scenes videographers and still photographers because they had a tendency to get in the way. I've banned people from film sets because they kept clicking the shutter in the middle of a take after repeated warnings. A little consideration for the established way of doing things goes a long way.

You know, the same public servant issue is true of judges, who set the rules for their own courts in many respects. Thus, you often see sketches of criminal trials because cameras are prohibited from the courtroom. Would it be OK for a citizen journalist to just start filming a trial without asking or abiding by the rules of the court?
posted by anigbrowl at 1:52 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Before I get started, everyone should take a look at an excerpt from the Senate Environment & Public Works Minority Blog. This isn't the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, but I think it provides an interesting insight into the supposedly neutral bureaucratic ideal of permits outlined above.

Me, if I'm going to DC for a hearing calendared weeks or months in advance, I'd start the credential process before I bought the plane ticket.

How many times in the past several years have we seen last-minute hearings scheduled late at night for controversial legislation that doesn't have public support? The senate blog I linked above specifically talks about this. From the repeated rushing of PATRIOT Act renewals to the last-minute fakeout on SOPA, the number of times this tactic has been used is huge, and it's almost always for controversial but important issues.

The whole basis of a legislature is to establish rules and procedures, not to decide everything on an ad-hoc basis.

I understand and support the advantages of a Weberian bureaucracy. By uniformly following rules and being impersonal, ideally no preference is given to different people and everyone is treated equally.

Reporting to the public is a worthy calling, but it does not give you an automatic access-all-areas pass onto public property.

No, but I suppose it being public property should give the public that pass.

Like I said above, a Weberian bureaucratic ideal would be great. But we don't have that system. We have a broken system. And in a broken system those rules and regulations can be used to reduce access instead of equalize access.

Sorry to be so harsh, but from the perspective of someone who has done this professionally, these complaints are petulant and adolescent.

This is being danced around a bit throughout this thread, but part of the issue here I think is the rise of the amateur professional and the debate over that. We've talked about it before on the blue, discussing Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur and Nick Carr. The comment above by ardiril about the "Huffington Post, an organization I do not recognize as staffed by journalists" kind of supports that view. (The Huffington Post has some issues with regards to worker pay and treatment, but that doesn't mean they're not journalists. Several journalism organizations have come out in defense of the writers there.)

And in terms of the amateur vs. professional thing, I'm fully in support of empowering more amateurs to help create more content. I'm a firm believer that Photography is not a crime and it's becoming increasing clear we must be vigilant against attacks on that right.

And while those attacks may mostly be on amateurs now, they will most definitely be applied more broadly to professionals further down the road.
posted by formless at 8:04 PM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


salishsea: "Oh my God you guys. What's wrong with "Welcome Mr. Fox, please have a seat and feel free to set up your camera. I have no doubt you'll be interested in our deliberations today.""

When government officials make one-off exceptions to the rules, we usually call that corruption.

It sounds stodgy and bureaucratic, but when it comes to governmental proceedings, the rules are the rules, and they must be obeyed (although they can be changed or amended if you really don't like them).

formless: "How many times in the past several years have we seen last-minute hearings scheduled late at night for controversial legislation that doesn't have public support? The senate blog I linked above specifically talks about this. From the repeated rushing of PATRIOT Act renewals to the last-minute fakeout on SOPA, the number of times this tactic has been used is huge, and it's almost always for controversial but important issues."

None? Hearings always happen well in advance of any votes on important legislation, and even at that that, any bill may be debated indefinitely on the Senate floor before it comes to a vote, unless the legislation in question has clear and overwhelming support. I think you're misunderstanding the role of committees and committee hearings in the process of passing legislation. They're primarily used to gather testimony and information so that appropriate legislation may be drafted or reviewed. Legislation can originate and be passed without a committee's involvement.

If someone wants to quietly rush a bill through Congress (and has the filibuster-proof majority necessary to do it; hopefully a large enough one to avoid a cloture vote entirely), they're not going to hold committee hearings to discuss it. If anywhere, the debate will happen in the legislative chamber itself.

I can remember quite a few occasions on which the Senate has stayed in session until late at night, and they've stayed in session around the clock on a number of occasions. However, I can't think of a single nighttime committee hearing in recent years. It's simply antithetical to the purpose and nature of having a hearing in the first place.
posted by schmod at 9:50 PM on February 2, 2012


Luckily, Ardiril, your personal opinion on the matter isn't the law.

Actually, the law doesn't support the contention that "anyone who says they're a journalist is a journalist" either (which is the line that kicked off this whole derail in the first place). There's a good discussion of a ruling that pretty clearly states if one wants the protections of a journalist, one also has to abide by the responsibilities of a journalist, here.

I'm not asserting this particular guy's status one way or another, or that the public shouldn't have access to Congress, period: just that this particular stance has been adamantly asserted though-out the whole thread, and it's not actually the case.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:20 PM on February 3, 2012


An incredibly elegant and simple website explaining the dangers of fracking.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:22 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I keep giggling over everyone's Battlestar references but it gets old after a while.
posted by fuq at 7:46 PM on February 14, 2012


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