An award-winning CQ Roll Call reporter was forced out of the Federal Communications Commission headquarters Thursday after trying to ask FCC commissioners questions following a press conference.
John Donnelly, a reporter for Capitol Hill-focused news outlet CQ Roll Call, was trying to do his job on Thursday afternoon when FCC security guards pinned him to a wall. The guards then told Donnelly to leave the premise.
"I have been working as a reporter in this town for years and dealing with the top leaders in our government every day and in the hustle and bustle of press scrums," Donnelly said. "I've never been in a situation where simply asking a question was treated as a crime."
Donnelly recalled the incident in an interview with Mic.
"[The FCC] had a public meeting today, and it had sort of a wave of press conferences after that," Donnelly said, describing the incident in a phone interview. "I was there, but I was not one of the reporters who asked a question at the press conference. I wanted to ask questions one-on-one. Apparently, that's forbidden at the FCC."
Donnelly said that he began to notice something was wrong when security officials began following him around.
"They had been kind of shadowing me all day, which was weird," he said. "I thought they were just doing it to prevent anyone from getting too close to the commissioners, which I would understand as a security measure. But then it became apparent that they were singling me out as if I were someone who was some sort of trouble."
After the press conference, Donnelly sought out two FCC officials to ask them questions. When he approached FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly to ask a question, two security guards pushed Donnelly up against the wall, preventing him from moving any closer.
"It wasn't as if I appeared in any way to be threatening, but the security guards decided to press me up against the wall, as if I committed a crime," Donnelly said.
From behind the two security guards, Donnelly began asking O'Rielly a question anyway.
"He didn't say anything — he just looked at me, and then he looked at them, and it seemed like he was perfectly fine with what was going on," he said. "And then — as if I committed a crime — they forced me to leave the building."
A request for comment to O'Rielly was not immediately answered.
The incident was first reported in a post on the website of the National Press Club, where Donnelly is chairman of the press freedom committee.
"Donnelly was doing his job and doing it with his characteristic civility," NPC President Jeff Ballou said in a statement. "Reporters can ask questions in any area of a public building that is not marked off as restricted to them. Officials who are fielding the questions don't have to answer. But 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."
In a statement to Recode's Tony Romm, the FCC said it apologized to Donnelly for the incident.
"We apologized to Mr. Donnelly more than once and let him know that the FCC was on heightened alert today based on several threats," the statement said.
Donnelly said he would like the FCC to issue a public apology, and that he wants the organization to make it clear that its policy is not to prevent reporters from asking questions in public areas.
"I'm worried for the next reporter who makes the ill-fated decision to — God forbid — ask a question of a public official in a public space," he said.