“Rally to Restore Sanity” pledges to “strictly prohibit filming” at National Mall

Irony reaches new heights as Comedy Central is going to “strictly prohibit filming” of the Rally to Restore Sanity/March to Keep Fear Alive. PJTV’s Washington Bureau chief Richard Pollock inquired with the Comedy Central’s senior vice president of corporate communications Steve Albani about receiving credentials. Albani claimed that Pollock would not be given credentials because of limited supply, and as such there would be no room on the “press riser” for PJTV’s camera and crew. When Pollock said that he’d be fine with filming not on the press riser, Albani said that filming would be “strictly prohibited” between 3rd and 7th streets on the National Mall (ground zero for the event). The email exchange is further down.

The claim that Comedy Central can prohibit filming on federal property during an event open to the public is completely wrong. I know this because I co-organized the first D.C. Tea Party event with John O’Hara (again, prior to my employment at The Examiner, yadda yadda), meaning I’ve gone through the process of getting a permit on federal property run by the National Park Service, which is precisely what Comedy Central had to do. And under the special events guidelines, which Albani may not have taken time to look at, is this:

News coverage of the event is allowed without additional permits unless significant additional equipment set-up, which is not depicted on the Permittees site plan, is involved. Arrangements for press and broadcast media coverage of the event must be made at least seven (7) days before the opening day of the event.

Here’s another resource, too. If PJTV’s crew walks around with handheld cameras, they’re well within their rights, particularly as a media organization — especially considering the number of camera phones, Flipcams, and personal camcorders that will be used during the event. But wait — it looks like somebody at Comedy Central read the rules because there’s a list on the Rally’s Frequently Asked Questions page about what is not permitted, and cameras are unlisted. In fact, the FAQ even says that the event is open to the media and to contact about credentials.

You don’t need credentials to film an event open to the public on federal land that has already permitted other media outlets. Comedy Central has not leased the National Mall, nor could it. In other words, quit it. Either this is a fun publicity stunt steeped in irony or it’s an exercise in corporate control. And last I checked, it’s not “Comedy Central Planning.”

In fact, the Tea Party movement has done a bang-up job allowing as many kooky reporters and camera-toting people into their rallies, and simply found ways to deal with it without clamping down on free press. (The most innovative is using signs to expose Tea Party imposters.) In fact, as Lachlan Markay notes, the press is going wild for this event, but Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Hope was willing to provide more credentials (though it’s uncertain who, if any, were ever denied):

For some perspective, consider that the September 12, 2010 Tea Party on the Mall received roughly 150 requests for press credentials, according to FreedomWorks, which sponsored the event.

Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally granted 450 such credentials to journalists, but in the brief contact NewsBusters had with Beck’s staff there was no indication that any reporter who had requested credentials had been turned down.

There’s the real irony: While this rally seeks to make fun of Tea Party activists who advocate for freedom, Comedy Central is looking to tightly control the event as much as possible. Lame.

Be sure and read Pollock’s fantastic rejoinder at the end of the email thread.

From: “Albani, Steve”
Fri, 29 Oct 2010 14:59:27 -0400
Richard Pollock
RE: DC Rally Update

Richard – you should have received notification yesterday.  Unfortunately, due to extremely limited riser locations, we are not able to accommodate your request for credentials.  However, the event is free and open to public so we encourage you to attend with the general audience.

Please note, taping for television or any other filming is strictly prohibited between 3rd and 7th Street without a media credential.  The event will be broadcast live on Comedy Central and comedycentral.com and a clean feed will also be available by satellite – coordinates will be released when they are available.  Please contact Renata Luczak to receive the satellite coordinates.

From: Richard Pollock
Friday, October 29, 2010 3:14 PM
To: Albani, Steve
Subject: Re: DC Rally Update

Dear Steve,

Thanks for your reply. Can we get media credentials without a riser position?



From: Albani, Steve
Friday, October 29, 2010 3:15 PM
To: Richard Pollock
Subject: RE: DC Rally Update

The only camera crews that will receive credentials are those for the riser. We are not issuing any other TV credentials.



From: “Richard Pollock”
Date: Oct 29, 2010 6:33 PM
Subject: RE: DC Rally Update
“Albani, Steve”

Hi Steve,

Well your risers, you own.  As Comedy Central, you have property rights and complete control over that. No one will deny you that. We are content, though disappointed with your decision to withhold media credentials to us.

However, the last I heard the First Amendment still does apply to America.  It not only applies to TV hosts, show producers and to networks, but extends to the public and to events held on federal land. Yes, public lands! Although it may not make any sense to you at this moment, the National Mall is not a TV set, although it may look like one.

As the former chief Washington producer for ABC’s “Good Morning America” for nine years, let me assure you that you cannot bar cameras from public walkways on the Mall.  It has never happened.

And so we will be there crew and all.

It does seem a bit incredulous that a rally for “reasonableness” should exclude freely based camera crews exercising their First Amendment rights to cover your attendees walking on public property.  Unless this is Prague in 1968.  And unless Comedy Central own tanks.  Or unless it deploys a Comedy Police with enforcement powers.

On the other hand maybe I got this all wrong…I thought you were merely trying to be clever when you said it was a rally for fear.  If is that, then I certainly understand your attitudes and rules.

See you tomorrow!

All the best,


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