Exclusive: Gasland Director Josh Fox Talks About His Arrest at Congressional HearingFeb 2nd, 2012 | By fjgallagher | Category: Fracking, Lead Articles
Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, cut off from all media access, you have undoubtedly heard that filmmaker Josh Fox, the director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, “Gasland,” was arrested yesterday as he tried to film a Congressional subcommittee hearing on an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency into whether or not hydraulic fracturing, or “tracking,” has any impact on groundwater.
NaturalGasWatch.org caught up with Fox by phone as he traveled back from Washington D.C. to New York on Amtrak.
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NGW: So, by now everybody knows you were arrested yesterday when you tried to film the subcommittee hearing. Walk me through this. What happened yesterday?
JF: A crazy turn of events, you know. We were interested in taping the hearing at the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee and this was a hearing that was held as an inquiry into the EPA groundwater test results. This was a three and a half year investigation out of Region 8 into the complaints from the people you saw in Gasland. They had kicked and screamed and got the EPA to come out and do a full investigation and it went on for three and a half years and it was something we were tracking, so this was a very personal thing to cover. We’ve taped conventional hearings before without incident, and yet in the last three years or so since this new Congress came in, we’ve had a lot of trouble, we’ve had a lot of obstruction, we’ve had a lot of, “No.” When you’re not a Hill journalist, who’s there on the Hill all the time — and there’s not a lot of those people, a hundred or so, maybe a 150 — you have to make a special appeal and usually it’s granted, so this is what we did, we went through the proper channels after the hearing was announced on Monday, and they denied us. So we went and appealed to the chairman, because you can do this at the discretion of the chairman. I got in touch with Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican out of Maryland who is the chair. His staff answered the phone and said, “We’ll get right back to you and let you know,” and they never got back to us. That was around 8 o’clock on Tuesday night. So we had a choice, do we go and show up, or what? So we went. We had to get on a train at 4 o’clock in the morning, get there around 8:15 and show up for the hearing. They advised us that we were not allowed to film. I said we were waiting on a determination from the chairman and informed them that we had made an appeal and asked them if they had information about that. They said no. I walked in, but they stopped Matt Sanchez, they stopped my editor, co-creator and camera man from coming in the door because his camera was out. My camera was in the case. I walked in the door and started setting up my tripod because it was my belief that this was a public hearing, and I’ve taped hundreds of public hearings, and it was public speech and public speech is protected under the First Amendment. The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law that infringes upon the freedom of the press. If you’re making a rule or a regulation in a House subcommittee, that is subordinate to the Constitution, period. You can walk in there and say, “this is my right as a journalist in America to tape this public speech. You are the government. You are supposed to be transparent.”
NGW: You would think that these strict constructionist Constitutionalist types in the Republican party these days would understand that.
JF: It’s clear that these people felt that the rules didn’t apply to them. The bottom line is, this is America. No one is exempt. Not the President, not the Congress, not the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is there to interpret the Constitution. No one is exempt from the Constitution, that’s the bottom line. You can’t break the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. So, these people come up in my face and say, “You have to stop taping, you have to stop taping.” Meanwhile, I’m saying, no, I’m here to do my job as a journalist. It’s a heated moment but I’m calm. Meanwhile this sort of weird group of police and security starts surrounding me — and by the way, the whole audience is there. There’s about a hundred people there to witness this hearing and they’re getting ready to get started and the members are beginning to come in and you’ve got every single Congressional staffer taping and saying, “What’s going on?” which is why you see these YouTube videos of me getting arrested. Those aren’t my videos. That’s the staff of the Congress — meanwhile they’re telling me to stop taping and everyone else has their iPhone out. It was surreal. I think they’re clearly politically motivated, as was the hearing itself. It’s clear that here we have science itself on trial. It’s very meticulous science and the House Science and Technology committee, having been taken over by this group of Republican Congressmen, who are so adamantly against objective science, information and journalism that they’re willing to put science on trial at the hearing. The panel at the hearing was stacked with gas industry lobbyists, and that’s what they wanted to hear. They wanted to hear the gas industry’s position. We wanted to report on that because it was an ugly and brazen attack on an investigation of the truth. And what do you see happening? Them kicking out the further investigation and taking that out in handcuffs. I was stunned. When we went there, I thought they couldn’t possibly do this. This is a First Amendment issue. I didn’t want to have a confrontation. I don’t like confrontation, but I was sort of prepared to do what happened. I thought this could be a possible outcome. It just shows the short-sightedness, because the backlash is huge. It shows the short-sightedness, not only in terms of doing something ridiculous like arresting a journalist — I don’t know that that’s every happened on the floor of the House of Representatives or in a hearing room — but beyond that, the short-sightedness of gas drilling itself. We’re sacrificing our groundwater, we’re sacrificing our land value for the short-term profit of the oil and gas industry, and that’s where that party stands right now, and to a degree, both parties. We have to pursue sustainable economics and renewable energy on a wholly different level, and we have to challenge the assaults and the intimidation tactics, not only on journalism but on the science, when they come up, because it’s clear that the truth and also morality and the Constitution is not on their side.
NGW: So what’s the status of this thing right now? Do you have an attorney? Do you have a court date?
JF: I have a court date on Feb. 15. I have to go back to DC then. I don’t know — we’ll go through the options. I can’t give you a legal argument or strategy right now. Basically I got out of jail, ended up writing our statement and then did tons of media. The interesting thing is we got invited back immediately to do interviews with Brad Miller and Paul Tonko, who are two of the Democratic Representatives on the committee. We had sat down with both of them previously for Gasland II and we did a further interview with both of them. It was quite amazing to have this war over access and it shouldn’t be the case. When you’re doing reporting, or basically anything like that, this is why we have a Bill of Rights, because that is protected speech and protected behavior.
NGW: Have you heard in the aftermath of all of this from any of the Republican representatives of that committee? Are they at all ashamed of themselves or did they express any remorse for their abrogation of their responsibilities under the Constitution?
JF: No, not to me. I haven’t heard anything out of them. I haven’t heard a word, but I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this. This is a civil rights infringement. I don’t think they’ve heard the last of this. This is very important thing for documentarians to challenge. I think I’m going to lose the connection soon. We’re headed into a tunnel.
NGW: Okay, then, I guess that’s it — thanks for your time, and let’s talk soon so we can do a follow-up on your case as it proceeds.