If you’ve been watching coverage of the unfolding drama taking place in the House, you’ve likely noticed that the camera shots are not the usual stale wide-pans that saturate C-SPAN on a day-to-day basis.
Usually, the House forbids independent media coverage of proceedings, meaning that networks must rely on a government feed for coverage. But when there are special events taking place in the House, such as the election for speakers, independent coverage is allowed.
In this case, that translates to C-SPAN deploying multiple cameras of its own into the House chamber, giving the public a rare front row view of the high-stakes negotiations between lawmakers.
For example, C-SPAN’s cameras showed Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, who has voted against Kevin McCarthy for speaker, on the floor speaking Tuesday with Democratic Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Gosar was asking Ocasio-Cortez if any Democrats were planning to leave the floor or vote present so McCarthy could have a lower threshold, according to Ocasio-Cortez spokesperson Lauren Hitt. Ocasio-Cortez, according to Hitt, told Gosar that there was no plan to do that.
The image of seeing the two next to each other is striking: The House voted to censure Gosar and remove him from committees in November 2021 after Gosar photoshopped an anime video to social media showing him appearing to kill Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.
Normally, those interactions would be shielded from public view.
“We are able to show Paul Gosar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sitting down and speaking to one another. We are able to show Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan talking before the next votes,” Ben O’Connell, C-SPAN’s director of editorial operations, told me by phone. “We are able to show scrums of members migrating across the floor as negotiations go on. You don’t see that during standard coverage.”
O’Connell noted that C-SPAN would like to be able to do this far more often. The organization has petitioned Congress dozens of times throughout the year to allow it greater editorial discretion over the camera shots it chooses to air.
“It would be great if we could provide this kind of coverage even during deliberations on major legislation or other times beyond the speaker election and more ceremonial functions of Congress,” he said. “We hope some day cameras are allowed in there far more frequently than they are now.”
“I think it is really important for journalists to be behind the cameras rather than the government being behind the cameras,” O’Connell added. “We, during a typical legislative day, have a government entity covering the government. And I think it would be invaluable to have journalists behind the camera instead.”
When cameras were first allowed, they became a potent political weapon. In the 1980s and early 1990s, congressmen such as Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia – later the House speaker – would give speeches criticizing Democrats meant only for the TV cameras. There would be few people in the chamber, and since the lawmakers could speak on any subject, it seemed as if there were no answers from the other side.
Then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill eventually ordered the cameras to show the full empty chamber and chastised Gingrich, setting off a partisan fight that helped elevate Gingrich and humiliated the Democratic speaker.