At the behest of the Republican leadership of a House of Representatives subcommittee, Capitol Police arrested Joshua Fox, the maker of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland,” when he tried on Wednesday to film a subcommittee hearing on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method used to tap oil and gas reservoirs.
With its images of flammable tap water, “Gasland” publicized concerns among critics of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of the technology’s possible effect on water supplies. The oil and gas industry and its supporters have argued that the film misrepresented the risk from fracking, which they say is minute. Fracking involves high-pressure injection of water laced with chemicals into shale beds to fracture the formations and unlock pockets of oil and, increasingly, natural gas.
Fox and his small crew had joined other media in the Rayburn building on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning to record a fracking hearing by a House subcommittee on Science, Space and Technology, led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a vocal proponent of fracking. Republicans wanted Fox removed because he lacked the proper press credentials to film.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) said she was at another committee hearing when a staffer at the fracking hearing called her urging her to come immediately. She said she found Fox handcuffed in the hallway outside the hearing room, along with at least one member of his small crew. Of her Republican colleagues, she said, “Do these guys get the 1st Amendment at all?”
In a statement on the science committee’s website, Republicans said: “The individual removed was not accredited by the House Radio and TV Gallery and had refused to turn off his camera upon request by Capitol Police.”
Congressional hearings are open to the public. Anyone with a cellphone camera could record the proceedings, as a video on Huffington Post of Fox’s arrest shows.
House Democrats and civil libertarians lambasted the arrest. “I have served in the House of Representatives since 1992, and I had the privilege of chairing the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. In all that time, I cannot recall a chair of any committee or subcommittee having ever ordered the removal of a person who was filming a committee proceeding and not being disruptive, whether or not that person was accredited,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “The proceedings of the House are open to the public because we are the People’s House.”