Some on Hill Hot Over FCC Media 'Manhandling' Allegation

A reporter's run-in with security guards at the FCC May 18 while trying to ask a question of a commissioner has gotten a lot of attention.

In addition to a story in the New York Times, B&C/Multichannel News and other outlets, both Democrats and at least one Republican have weighed in seeking answers on how and why the incident happened, which was relayed on the National Press Club website—the reporter involved, John Donnelly of CQ Roll Call, also happens to be chairman of the Press Club's Press Freedom Team.

Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Margaret Wood Hassan of New Hampshire wrote FCC chairman Ajit Pai to call the report very disturbing and ask for a "detailed" description of the event, whether there was inappropriate physical conduct—the reporter says he was pinned against a wall—a description of current security policies, and that no such alleged conduct will be repeated.

They want a response to the letter by May 26 and a report on security policies to the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate Commerce Committee within 60 days.

The senators said the incident appeared to be part of the "larger pattern of hostility towards the press" characteristic of the Trump Administration, but they also cited an incident last year with one of the same security guards under then Democratic chairman Tom Wheeler.

The FCC apologized, as did the commissioner Republican Michael O'Rielly.

Elsewhere, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested the FCC also needed to take a "hard look" at what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again. 

"As The Washington Post pointed out, it’s standard operating procedure for reporters to ask questions of public officials after meetings and news conferences. It happens all day, every day. There’s no good reason to put hands on a reporter who’s doing his or her job.”

The "hearing" was the FCC's public meeting at which O'Rielly and Pai voted to launch the rollback of Title II, a move that has inflamed net neutrality activists and helped generate more than 2 million comments to the FCC.

Donnelly told the Press Club that he had the run-in with FCC security when he "strolled in an unthreatening way" toward O'Rielly. He said guards "pinned" him against the wall then forced him to leave the building. 

"We apologized to Mr. Donnelly more than once and let him know that the FCC was on heightened alert today based on several threats," said an FCC spokesperson, who had no further details on the incident.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.