Authors Note: A previous version of the story stated that Senator Richard Alloway was the Senator who fielded those questions. In fact it was State Senator John Eichelberger.
At a Donald Trump rally earlier this week, Time photographer Chris Morris was violently choke slammed by a Secret Service agent for stepping outside a designated “press pen.” Documenting the brewing war on journalism, Philadelphia Daily News journalist Will Bunch described these press pens “a sad, anti-democratic invention where journalists are corralled at political rallies like so much cattle, and under orders from the campaigns and their security not to leave and talk to rank-and-file voters.”
Back home in Pennsylvania, the day after the incident happened at the Trump rally questions about who should pay for the usage and costs of the Capitol’s newsroom were raised at the Department of General Services Senate Appropriations budget hearing.
Just think about that and let that sink in for a couple of minutes.
Should it be the Department of General Services which is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion or other state buildings across Harrisburg?
Or should it be the journalists from the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association who cover what is happening inside the Peoples’ House?
This issue was brought up by State Senator Vincent Hughes at the annual Pennsylvania Budget Summit hosted by the Pennsylvania Budget Policy Center. Senator Hughes capped off the event as the event’s keystone speaker and jumped right into the matter at hand.
One of my colleagues asked one of the secretaries. Do we charge for use of space in the capitol building? Do we charge for use of space in the capitol building? And the response was “no.”
And the next was, you know, we have the newsroom. Some of you know where I’m going with this. We have the newsroom. For those of you who don’t know, there is a room at the top of the rotunda steps that leads into a dark alley. For real, alright. And the little bit of light – I’m talking about physical light. The little bit of light that shimmers from out of there is the offices of the various members of the capitol press corp. And it is a space that clearly, it is the space that time has forgotten. What I mean by that is not the work that is being done there because there is light that – that real light – that illuminates from the office. The light of accountability, the light of information, the light of sharing with folks of whats going on. That light is far brighter. That light from those individuals in the press corp is far brighter than the candles and what have you they have lit back there is to illuminate their work.
Senator Hughes went on to describe how the capitol press room has been neglected for years and then goes into the next question posed by the mystery senator. As he continued to tell the crowd, “basically the next question was do you think we should charge the press for the use of that room?” Senator Hughes continues his story, and describes how Senator X asked if the state monitors the people who come into the capitol because sometimes it gets too loud for him to use his phone when there are rallies going on – otherwise known as people executing their first amendment rights in this democratic society.
So who was this mystery senator? Who was Senator X?
Well, Senator Hughes was reluctant to out his colleague during and after the address. Finding transcripts of the Appropriation hearings will be impossible because as a cost cutting maneuver the Senate did not transcribe any of Appropriation hearings that have happened over the past two weeks and that will end next week, and if you really want to find out exactly who it was, you would have to be watching PCN, the service the televises these hearings, at some ungodly hour of the morning or request video transcript from the organization.
Thankfully there was someone in the crowd who knew who Senator X was. After reading a review of the hearing, it was State Senator John Eichleberger who fielded the question. State Senator Eichleberger asked if media entities were being charged “fair market price” for their occupancy. The Department of General Services secretary stated that the press corp was charged below market value and Eichleberger replied that that needs to be addressed.