House votes to rescind rule giving witnesses camera veto
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The U.S. House of Representatives voted 241-165 in mid-November to terminate a 40-year-old rule allowing witnesses to exclude television cameras and radio microphones from congressional hearings.
House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) sought the ban after three witnesses, who had been called to testify during his committee’s investigation into alleged fundraising violations during the 1996 presidential election campaign, invoked the rule so their testimony would not be videotaped.
The rule was adopted in 1957 after William Sherwood, a cancer researcher, committed suicide two days before he was to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Sherwood’s suicide note expressed his fear that media coverage of his testimony would result in his being “assassinated by publicity.” Sherwood’s widow sued the House, and the House then informally changed its practice to grant subpoenaed witnesses the right to exclude cameras, although the rule was not formalized until 1970. (House Rule 11, clause 3F2)