The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to reports on Tuesday evening from journalists on Capitol Hill, who alleged that Capitol Police were blocking reporters' access as they tried to cover healthcare protests.
Reporters from the Daily Beast, the Huffington Post, the New York Post, and the Washington Post all tweeted from the Senate Gallery that reporters were being prevented from covering the protests. As nearly 100 demonstrators were arrested for protesting the vote to move to a debate on Trumpcare, which would cut health care coverage for up to 32 million Americans, police told reporters not to document the scene.
Sergeant at Arms just backed reporters off, called it a 'crime scene.' Protesters have been escorted away.— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) July 25, 2017
Senate gallery staffer tells reporters to "back up" away from protesters who are being arrested. "This is a crime scene"— Gabby Morrongiello (@gabriellahope_) July 25, 2017
Contrary to what the staffers reportedly suggested, there is no blanket law prohibiting the media from covering a "crime scene."
Journalists also wrote that Capitol Police demanded that photos of the protests and arrests be deleted.
Reporters blocked from Senate halls where protesters being arrested, shouting, "Kill the bill!" Being told, "no photos. Delete your photos."— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) July 25, 2017
Capitol Hill staffer now telling reporters "no photography, no videos" of protestors— Gabby Morrongiello (@gabriellahope_) July 25, 2017
Capitol Police made me delete the video I recorded. https://t.co/NQH2fLFYiO— Andrew Desiderio (@desiderioDC) July 25, 2017
As the ACLU notes in its online guide for members of the media, "When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police...Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances."
The intimidation of journalists has escalated on Capitol Hill in recent weeks as the Senate has inched toward voting on Trumpcare. A female reporter was kicked out of the House Speaker's lobby in June for not adhering to the House's dress code. And after years of being permitted to interview senators in Senate building hallways, reporters were told in June that interviews would no longer be allowed. (The Senate Rules Committee reversed course on this rule following an uproar.)