You would think it would be easier to get members of Congress to talk to the friendly hometown TV reporter who’d made the trip to DC to see them.
As is much of my professional life, my DC trip last week was a lesson in humility.
My favorite encounters were the visits we’d made, unannounced, to Congressional offices in the Cannon and Rayburn House office buildings.
We entered the office of one Congressman, identified ourselves to the steely-eyed young man inside — and he immediately asked us to leave.
(This was much to the horror of the Rep’s press secretary, who materialized a few minutes later, invited us back in, offered us snacks and drinks and was exceedingly helpful throughout our visit.)
Typically, our unannounced visits would yield a press secretary and a “send me an email,” something s/he’d already gotten, at least once, from our station in the previous 48 hours. The emails would get acknowledged but almost never produced interview appointments without additional browbeating.
There were a few ambushes, a word that sounds more confrontational than it is. Reps. Jack Kingston and David Scott ambled past us a couple of times and stopped to chat. I stalked Rep. Rob Woodall in a Rules Committee meeting above the House chamber, after which he agreeably followed me to the camera Stephen Boissy had set up in a designated tripod zone.
Conversely, when I spotted Rep. John Barrow walking toward the Capitol, he barely acknowledged my introduction and request to stop and chat.
One of my biggest priorities was to talk to Rep. Tom Graves, a Tea Party-backed guy who’d become part of the core group leading the standoff. Graves was busy, I’d been told. But Boissy spotted him in a hallway just as we were trying to make deadline Wednesday. I ran him down and asked him to talk with us the following day. The next day, his press secretary made it happen.
Boissy and I had no Capitol Hill office, so we schlepped a TVU backpack (a portable live unit that uses cell phone signals to send a TV picture) and my bulky Dell laptop everywhere we went, plus camera gear and tripod. We exploited electrical outlets found in hallways and at a camera “drop” site outside the Capitol, and edited video on the laptop wherever we could find a spot.
When we visited Graves at his office, his staff agreed to allow us to leave the laptop and TVU in his office temporarily. We followed Graves to the Capitol, where he’d had a meeting scheduled with Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Then we talked with a couple of other Congressmen and then — Boissy and I heard gunfire. The cops freaked. We were ordered off the Capitol property, which went on lockdown. The station called. “Can you go live?”
Well — no. We left the TVU in Tom Graves’ office, and now the congressional office buildings are on lockdown.
Another lesson learned, I guess.