Photographer Jim Lo Scalzo says Representative Louie Gohmert covered his camera when he tried to photograph demonstrators at the Senate confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions, the nominee for Attorney General. Lo Scalzo, a photographer with European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), was standing near the door where Capitol Police removed the protesters when “all of a sudden my lens went dark,” he tells PDN. “I felt somebody in my personal space. I think this person had actually touched my lens. I looked up and it was [a] representative from Texas, Louie Gohmert.” Gohemert, a Republican who represents a Congressional district in East Texas, had been listening to the hearing in a seat near the door, along with other members of the public. Lo Scalzo says he asked if the representative was trying to keep him from photographing the demonstrators. Lo Scalzo tells PDN, “He said, ‘Yes. They’re not the story.’ He pointed over to Jeff Sessions and said, ‘He’s the story.’ I told him, ‘You don’t get to determine who I photograph.’ I said, ‘That’s censorship.’”
Lo Scalzo then returned to his position in the well—the area on the floor between Senate committee members and witnesses. When he headed for the door a short time later, Gohmert told Lo Scalzo that he and another photographer had been blocking his view. Lo Scalzo calls this “totally untrue,” and told Gohmert he would go outside to speak to the media. The Dallas Morning News and Roll Call ran stories on the confrontation.
Gohmert’s office sent a statement about the incident to both publications. In the statement, Gohmert did not deny stopping Lo Scalzo and another photographer—who didn’t speak to the press. However, Gohmert said the photographers had been disruptive. “There were plenty of cameras to capture what was going on, so there was no censorship, but the rule-breaking, distracting, view-blocking cameraman was blocking my view requiring me to stand,” Gohmert said. According to the Dallas Morning News, Gohmert also told C-Span after the hearing that he had wanted the photographers removed from the hall along with the demonstrators.
Lo Scalzo, who has photographed on Capitol Hill for 23 years, says protocol dictates that when leaving a position in the well, photographers have to stay low to avoid blocking cameras or the view of the committee members. When he moved towards the back of the hall to photograph the protesters, a representative from the Senate Press Photo Gallery, the Senate’s liaison with journalists, directed him to stand near the door—far from Sessions or the Senators. About Gohmert’s allegation, Lo Scalzo says, “If you’re looking at the protesters, you’re in no way being blocked from seeing Sessions or the Senators.”
He adds, “What’s interesting is that I think that a lot of these lawmakers are emboldened by Trump’s animosity towards the press. I feel if we do not stand up, it’ll get worse. We have to take the opportunity to stand up for the First Amendment.”
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