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Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is filing a formal complaint with chamber officials regarding what he considers an “unethical” broadcast of an interview with him by a CNN reporter Tuesday.
In an incident that could have repercussions for TV journalists’ access to the chamber, Stevens is furious with CNN correspondent Joe Johns for an interview conducted outside the weekly GOP policy luncheons, but far away from the usual bank of TV cameras set up for such interviews next to the storied Ohio Clock.
“This was not a formal interview request. This was an ambush in the hallway,” said Stevens spokeswoman Courtney Boone. “He was asked to go on camera and declined.”
Stevens is filing the complaint with the Senate Radio/TV Gallery, the office charged with overseeing broadcast reporters, and the Rules and Administration Committee, which establishes the ground rules for what access media have on the Senate side of the Capitol.
CNN officials denied Stevens’ assertion that he didn’t know he was being filmed by their employees. “It was not an ambush, the Senator knew he was on camera,” said Edie Emery, a CNN spokeswoman.
Officials with the Radio/TV Gallery were not available for comment on the matter Wednesday evening.
It’s unclear what steps would be taken by either the gallery or the committee, or if there would be any punitive actions against Johns or the network if his report is found to have broken chamber policy.
“He’s letting the process, in that regard, go forward,” Boone said.
The blow-up over the Johns report comes as TV journalists have launched a campaign to secure greater access to the second-floor hallways, which are regarded as top real estate for reporters because it’s possible to get up-close face time with Senators there during votes and before and after key meetings.
But TV cameras have long been forbidden from roaming freely. Network and cable TV reporters are allowed to walk the hallways as openly as print and radio reporters can, but their cameras must stay put near the back exit of the chamber — and the cameras are only allowed in that spot during pre-arranged press conferences.
The effort to get more TV access is being led by Brian Wilson, Congressional correspondent for Fox News. But one Senate GOP aide said that this incident has ruined the TV journalists’ chances of getting more access. If TV crews continue to film Senators outside of the prescribed areas, the entire second floor may become a more restricted area for all media, some chamber sources said.
“If we can’t trust everyone, everyone’s going to have to be penned in,” the GOP aide said.
Johns, a Congressional beat reporter for CNN who now regularly files for the edgy “Anderson Cooper 360” show that airs at 10 p.m., has been seen over the past few months roaming around with a producer holding a hand-held camera.
Senate sources indicate that he has sometimes been allowed to do this if he specifically asks Senators if it’s OK if he tapes them.
In this instance, Boone said, Stevens did not grant permission to be filmed — something he regularly does do for reporters before and after the weekly Tuesday lunches, and oftentimes during votes.