May 19, 2017

Udall, Hassan Demand Answers from FCC Chairman about FCC Security Violence against Journalist

FCC security personnel reportedly manhandled, threatened, and ejected CQ Roll Call journalist; Udall, Hassan: Incident is a ‘new low point in a disturbing trend’ of hostility to press by the Trump administration

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) wrote to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai demanding an explanation for reports that FCC security personnel manhandled, threatened further violence, and ejected CQ Roll Call journalist John M. Donnelly following a press conference at FCC headquarters. Calling the incident a “new low point in a disturbing trend” of the Trump administration’s hostile relations with the press, Udall and Hassan directed Pai to respond promptly with a detailed explanation of the facts of the incident and FCC security protocols, and with his assurances that such an incident will never occur again.

“Given the FCC’s role as the primary authority for communications law and its regulatory role with respect to the media, the FCC should set a sterling example when it comes to supporting the First Amendment and freedom of the press for other government entities here in the United States and around the world,” the senators wrote. “As we discussed at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s March 8, 2017, oversight hearing, this is particularly important given recent disturbing incidents involving the Trump campaign and Trump Administration.”

“Yesterday’s incident at the FCC is not an isolated one and seems to be a part of a larger pattern of hostility towards the press characteristic of this Administration, which underscores our serious concern. Recent examples...make this most recent incident a new low point in a disturbing trend,” the senators continued, including with their letter a list of incidents involving the Trump campaign and administration's mistreatment of journalists.

The senators’ letter referred to a “disturbing” report from the National Press Club that John M. Donnelly, chairman of the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Team, “ran afoul of plainclothes security personnel at the FCC when he tried to ask commissioners questions…. Throughout the FCC meeting, the security guards had shadowed Donnelly as if he were a security threat…. They even waited for him outside the men’s room at one point.” The report went on to state that “[w]hen Donnelly strolled in an unthreatening way toward FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to pose a question, two guards pinned Donnelly against the wall with the backs of their bodies until O’Rielly had passed. O’Rielly witnessed this and continued walking. One of the guards, Frederick Bucher, asked Donnelly why he had not posed his question during the press conference. Then Bucher proceeded to force Donnelly to leave the building entirely under implied threat of force.”

The Senators asked the FCC Chairman to review the agency’s policies and staff training for handling security at public events and speaking engagements with FCC Commissioners.

The senators requested that Pai respond to their letter, in writing, no later than Friday, May 26th, 2017.

The full text of the letter is below and here. ??

Dear Chairman Pai:

We write in response to a very disturbing report that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) security personnel manhandled, threatened further physical violence, and ejected a respected Washington journalist after a news conference at the FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C., on May 18, 2017.

Given the FCC’s role as the primary authority for communications law and its regulatory role with respect to the media, the FCC should set a sterling example when it comes to supporting the First Amendment and freedom of the press for other government entities here in the United States and around the world. As we discussed at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s March 8, 2017, oversight hearing, this is particularly important given recent disturbing incidents involving the Trump campaign and Trump Administration.

Yet, according to a report by the National Press Club, John M. Donnelly of CQ Roll Call and chairman of the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Team “ran afoul of plainclothes security personnel at the FCC when he tried to ask commissioners questions…. Throughout the FCC meeting, the security guards had shadowed Donnelly as if he were a security threat…. They even waited for him outside the men’s room at one point.”

Even more disturbingly, the National Press Club description of the incident states that, “[w]hen Donnelly strolled in an unthreatening way toward FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to pose a question, two guards pinned Donnelly against the wall with the backs of their bodies until O’Rielly had passed. O’Rielly witnessed this and continued walking. One of the guards, Frederick Bucher, asked Donnelly why he had not posed his question during the press conference. Then Bucher proceeded to force Donnelly to leave the building entirely under implied threat of force.” According to this report, Mr. Bucher was involved in at least one other incident involving harassment of a journalist at an FCC meeting last year.

Yesterday’s incident at the FCC is not an isolated one and seems to be a part of a larger pattern of hostility towards the press characteristic of this Administration, which underscores our serious concern. Recent examples that make this most recent incident a new low point in a disturbing trend are enclosed with this letter.

So we ask that you please respond in writing by Friday, May 26th and, at a minimum, include:

1.A detailed description of the facts and circumstances of the May 18th incident at FCC headquarters;
2.A thorough explanation of any inappropriate physical contact, aggression, or threats against reporter John M. Donnelly by FCC security staff or other FCC officials while at FCC headquarters;
3.An explanation of any potential misconduct or wrongdoing by FCC security personnel or other FCC officials on May 18th;
4.A description of FCC security policies for public events including but not limited to speaking events featuring an FCC Commissioner; and
5.Your assurance that an incident such as the alleged physical restraint of reporter John Donnelly will not happen again.

We further request that you review FCC security policies for public events and speaking engagements and whether FCC staff and security personnel are aware of such policies and adequately trained. We ask that you submit a written report within 60 days to the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that includes this review and an explanation of any changes to security and training policies you will undertake following the May 18th incident.

Thank you for your consideration and prompt reply.

Sincerely,