WASHINGTON — Rodney Batten, a 32-year veteran cameraman for NBC News, was covering the welcome ceremony on the White House South Lawn for Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday morning.
Suddenly an outburst from a protester critical of the Chinese leader broke up his camera angle during the live broadcast of the event for MSNBC TV.
Batten explains how the incident unfolded and how unusual it is to see that kind of security breach at the White House.
What happened this morning when this woman started causing a ruckus on the media platform?
The Chinese press took up position on the upper level of the media platform, where I was also set up. That level provided me with a pretty good view of both presidents.
When we went out to get into position for the event, all of a sudden this woman shows up. She didn’t have any camera or anything, but she wanted to stand next to me.
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I told her, “Ma’am, no, you can’t stand there.” So, she was very polite and she stood behind me.
Then later on, all of sudden, she stepped forward, and I said “Hey, I told you, you couldn’t stand there.” But, President Bush was speaking at the time, so I didn’t have time to deal with her. I just told her she had to keep still.
About five minutes into the Chinese president’s comments, all of a sudden, she started to get agitated.
I turned to tell her to keep still and then she reached into this bag she had. That gave me a sense of alarm. At that point, I almost grabbed her, but I thought that no, she couldn’t have a gun, not in here. And that’s when she pulled out her flag and started screaming.
What exactly was she saying?
A lot of it was in Chinese, so I’m not sure exactly what she was saying.
But, you gotta understand my position. I’m there to shoot this event, and then I’m wondering, well should I be on the president of the United States or should I be here on this lady. And I’m also trying to please MSNBC cable, because I know they are broadcasting this live.
My job is to cover the news. But, for a split second there, she was literally leaning on me, and I thought, should I stop this woman?
And I thought, no, it’s not my job to do that. Where is the Secret Service?
If some kind of weapon was produced, I might have acted differently. But, she was just screaming and hollering and it was my job to cover the event and I certainly didn’t want to be part of it.
So, I pulled wide to show her, and she was still speaking in Chinese for a long time.
Then she started to say something in English, addressing Bush and saying something like, “President Bush, please stop him, please stop him.”
Do you know what she was protesting about?
I haven’t a clue as to where she was from. I was busy shooting the event. The Secret Service came up and escorted her out after a while.
How unusual is it that this sort of disruption happens?
Every once in a while these things happen. They try to control them, but somebody got through.
It used to happen quite a bit through other administrations, but the security measures are a lot tighter now. You hardly ever see someone sneaking past that bubble to infiltrate these events.
So, it was a big shock to all of us. Especially, to have her up on the riser, where we were.
Now all the head people in the Secret Service and in the president’s security detail are walking around, trying to figure out how this happened. They were not happy.
I believe that they are interviewing the woman now and as far as I know, she is still being debriefed.
Rodney Batten is an NBC News cameraman. He has worked for NBC News for 32 years and has shot events at the White House numerous time over the last 29 years that he has worked in the field. He was recently assigned to work at the White House full time.