A veteran journalist on Thursday was allegedly pinned to a wall by security guards at Federal Communications Commission (FCC) headquarters. This is the latest journalist to be threatened, assaulted, or arrested while attempting to ask questions of federal government officials.
John Donnelly, a senior defense writer at CQ Roll Call, said in a statement that he was “manhandled” by FCC security guards, and was physically forced to leave the building after he tried to ask questions of FCC commissioners.
“I could not have been less threatening or more polite,” Donnelly said. “There is no justification for using force in such a situation.”
The FCC on Thursday held a public hearing on net neutrality regulations, and commissioners took questions from reporters after the hearing. Donnelly said he waited in the hallway to asked the commissioner a question on an unrelated topic.
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Donnelly claims that when he approached FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to ask him a question, two security guards pinned Donnelly against a wall with their backs until the commissioner walked past. The security guards then forced Donnelly to leave the building “under implied threat of force.”
Jeff Ballou, president of the National Press Club, said in a statement that Donnelly was doing his job with “characteristic civility,” adding “it is completely unacceptable to physically restrain a reporter who has done nothing wrong or force him or her to leave a public building as if a crime had been committed.”
The FCC has not yet issued a public statement on the incident, and gave identical responses to multiple media outlets. “We apologized to Mr. Donnelly more than once and let him know that the FCC was on heightened alert today based on several threats,” an FCC spokesperson told the Washington Post.
In a Twitter exchange with Donnelly, O’Rielly wrote that he “didn’t recognize” Donnelly and didn’t witness a physical altercation. “I saw security put themselves between you, me, and my staff. I didn’t see anyone put a hand on you. I’m sorry [this] occurred,” O’Rielly wrote.
O’Rielly added that while he didn’t doubt Donnelly’s claims, he “didn’t see physical touching,” and at the time of the incident he was “freezing and starving.”
This incident comes during increasing tensions between the press and the Trump administration.
Kathy Kiely, press freedom fellow at the National Press Club Journalism Institute, said in a statement that the incident could not be dismissed in today’s political climate.
“Incidents like these, occurring under a president who has openly threatened a free press, take on a greater and more ominous significance,” Kiely wrote. “And they do not seem to be isolated.”
President Trump has said that he wants to change the country’s libel laws. Trump wrote on Twitter that the news media is the “is the enemy of the American People,” a claim he repeated during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief strategist and former head of the white nationalist news outlet Breitbart, told the New York Times that the media should “keep its mouth shut” and described the press as the “opposition party.”
It was recently revealed Trump suggested that former director of the FBI James Comey “should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information,” according to reporting by the New York Times.
There were six journalists arrested January 20 during massive Inauguration Day protests. Charges against five of those journalists were dropped by prosecutors, but one still faces felony charges. A journalist was arrested in February while covering the Dakota Access pipeline protests near Standing Rock reservation, one of many journalists who have been arrested at Standing Rock.
A West Virginia reporter was arrested this month after he attempted to ask Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.