Reporter Rachel Knapp cried after state senators ejected her from a public meeting she was covering at the Capitol.

Knapp should have laughed. Gutless senators on the Conservation Committee handed her quite a story for the evening news on television station KRQE.

To the best of anyone’s memory, Knapp was the first reporter ousted from a public meeting by state legislators.

What did she do to gain this unwanted attention? Knapp tried to chronicle decisions by politicians who say they stand for open government.

So routine was the hearing that it might have generated nothing more than a few turgid paragraphs for the senators’ own campaign mailers.

But then that great progressive, Democratic Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque, kicked Knapp out.

An industrious young pro, Knapp carries the heavy equipment necessary to get footage for her stories, chases down leads and puts together her packages for daily broadcasts.

In her unobtrusive way, Knapp was covering the Conservation Committee one day last week. Then Sedillo Lopez made an issue of Knapp and her camera.

Sedillo Lopez asked the committee chairwoman, who was presenting a bill and therefore not running the meeting, if the person behind the camera had received permission to film the hearing.

Knapp spoke up. She said she assumed she could cover a public meeting.

Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, had other ideas. He objected to Knapp gathering footage of the meeting. Woods, acting as though Knapp was doing opposition research for some unspecified enemy, said the film might be “spliced and edited to be used against someone.”

Sedillo Lopez, that great champion of open government, asked Knapp to exit the meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said this decision was a first since he’s been a legislator.

“In 16 years, I’ve never seen a TV news camera asked to leave a hearing,” Wirth told me.

Give Sedillo Lopez an F for overreacting to a reporter doing her job.

Sens. Joe Cervantes and Bill Soules, Democrats from Las Cruces, briefly left the committee room to tell Knapp they disagreed with her removal.

Give Cervantes and Soules an F for not being brave enough to speak up before Sedillo Lopez forced Knapp out. They could have challenged Sedillo Lopez’s decision and restored sanity to the hearing.

Wirth, also a member of the Conservation Committee, was not in the room when Sedillo Lopez decided the reporter had to go. But Wirth said it was the wrong call.

“Rachel Knapp should not have been asked to leave the committee room,” he said.

Online Now
Celebrate the Class of 2020

Submit online graduate profiles to share with family and friends free.

Still, Wirth can be an apologist for senators skittish about cameras in open meetings. He said he agreed with a decision by Cervantes last year to deny access to a cameraman who wanted to film the Conservation Committee for a documentary.

There is no practical difference in the two cases. Each time, someone wanted to cover politicians in a public forum.

Why do people have to obtain permission from the committee chairman to film or photograph hearings? Senators established this rule when Gov. Susana Martinez was in power.

Martinez, a Republican, hired camera crews to film hearings in hopes of obtaining footage of Democratic lawmakers saying something stupid. Then she could use it against them in campaign ads.

Woods, though a fellow Republican, was targeted by Martinez in the 2012 election. Martinez favored the woman running against Woods in a Senate primary.

Martinez’s political adviser created ads attacking Woods, believing the negative attention would sink his candidacy.

The tactic backfired.

Woods, one of the more affable politicians in New Mexico, received a groundswell of support from Republican voters angered by Martinez’s involvement in a legislative race. Woods defeated the governor’s preferred candidate and took his seat in the Senate.

During legislative sessions, Martinez continued her strategy of using camera crews to capture gaffes by legislators.

Even so, committee leaders allowed Martinez’s crews to film legislative hearings. Doing otherwise would have generated attack ads about secrecy.

Signs posted outside Senate committee rooms stated that members of the news media did not have to receive permission to film hearings. But those signs predated the rule about committee leaders having to approve photography.

Someone removed these signs after Knapp’s eviction from the hearing.

Even before the controversy swirling around Knapp, Sen. Jeff Steinborn proposed doing away with the rule about people having to receive permission to film or photograph hearings.

Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, says people should have the opportunity to document their government’s work. Give him an A for statesmanship.

Woods and other senators say their hearings already are webcast by the body itself. Before Knapp got the boot, Woods said anyone who wanted footage of a hearing could get it from the legislative website.

Nonsense. Knapp and every other reporter work under deadline pressure. They can’t rely on a government entity to provide needed content.

Plus, all senators will tell you the idea of government-run media chills them to the bone.

They tend to say the right thing most of the time. Too bad several senators did nothing when Sedillo Lopez decided a reporter was out of line and out the door.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

Show what you're thinking about this story

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.
0
2
1
0
8

Recommended for you

(11) comments

Prince Michael Jauregui

Mr. Simonich, you really hit this one out of the park - well done.

In all honesty, this great piece merely confirms what I've taught

for decades: Nevermind the often-Life changing issues facing their

constituents, political-parties perpetuate (and exploit) their vast

and bitter diversions.

Unless, it somehow concerns their own self-preservation,

and suddenly, bipartisan unity!

Literally, stop the presses - and video cameras!

Of course, Free Speech in "America" has not actually existed for years.

Stefanie Beninato

I support Steinborn's effort to make the legislative process more open and accessible. Maybe a reporter w camera could ask where to place the camera so as not to interfere with the hearing. No legitimate reason and the Dems who say nothing or speak out (mildly) after the fact are blowing in the wind. Time to stand up strongly for constitutional rights especially First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Roger Beimer

I might add, the quality of the video that comes from legislative cameras is about as good a quality as dash cam and lapel cam videos. AWFUL!

Mike Johnson

Well said, Sedillo-Lopez should be impeached for violating her oath to uphold the Constitution, and Woods should be censured.

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez

Thank you for the history of the rule. It actually makes a little more sense to me now. And, given his past experience, I better understand the ranking minority member’s decision to invoke the rule. Nonetheless, it is a rule, that is probably unconstitutional. And, it is nonsensical now that all hearings are webcast and archived. Unlike the President, I do not believe in ignoring legislative rules. The proper approach is to change the rules (or challenge them in court). I support Senator Steinborn’s proposed rule change to eliminate the need to obtain consent to film, and the ability to ban filming, and I eagerly await the opportunity to vote for it. I commend Ms. Knapp for shedding light on this issue. There is no reason the media should be barred from any Senate Hearing.

Mike Johnson

You should be impeached for unconstitutional conduct, violating your sacred oath. This womansplaining is irrational and shows your tenuous grasp of the truth and the Constitution. It also shows your hypocrisy.

real genericuser

It would be nice if we could impeach commenters, too. You're a partisan who lacks any desire to anything other than troll and snark. We are all dumber for having read your blather. nmlegis.gov. webcast. You can watch every hearing. You won't though: you're only here to spew your vitriol.

Khal Spencer

Oh, and your apology to Knapp and to the people of New Mexico for that bonehead dictat?

Carmen M

You referred to the committee chairwoman without naming her. I believe that was Santa Fe's Liz Stefanics, who just sat there and failed to speak up. Disappointing from a generally progressive legislator.

Mike Johnson

#ImpeachStefanicsToo

Jim Clark

Sounds like Trump.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.