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Jun-03-2014 14:10printcommentsVideo

Student Confronts Nancy Pelosi about NSA

Winner of C-SPAN's annual national "StudentCam" documentary competition exposes the paradox of politics in one fail swoop.

Andrew Demeter and Pelosi
Students including Andrew Demeter ask Nancy Pelosi questions that seem to stump the Leader. Photo: WeAreChange

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - 16-year-old Andrew Demeter of Cleveland, Ohio does not yet have his driver's license, but he has managed to confront arguably the most influential politician in the nation: Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Demeter was in D.C. this past month (April 27-29) for his award-winning entry "We The People, Genetically-Modified?" in C-SPAN's annual and national "StudentCam" documentary competition.

Originally scheduled to shake the hands of both Senator Harry Reid and Speaker of the House John Boehner (in lieu of Leader Pelosi), Demeter purchased online a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution as a gift and token for Reid, as the Democrat had recently and controversially labeled Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters (who had protested federal agents reclaiming the alleged government farmland) "domestic terrorists" for, what Demeter says, "was simply an exercise of free speech".

Much to his dismay, Demeter and the other top four winners of StudentCam were rescheduled to meet and greet Minority Leader Pelosi in the early afternoon of April 29. "I didn't want this opportunity to go to waste," Demeter remembers, "even if it required stepping outside my comfort zone."

"Washington, D.C. is flipped upside-down, inside-out," the teen theorizes, "You have to remove your belt, shoes, and jacket before entering the Capitol because you're supposedly a criminal; guilty until proven innocent. Truth be told, the real criminals conspire against the American public from inside the Capitol itself."

An outspoken critic of "unconstitutional" security measures at airport and government properties alike, Demeter highlights, "After emptying my pockets and walking through a metal detector, a security agent questioned me as I looped on my belt with one hand and held what would've been my present for Reid in the other, 'What is that?' she asked. 'The Constitution,' I replied. How ironic."

The youth activist then anxiously stood with Leader Pelosi's rushed legislative assistant while the remaining StudentCam contestants were granted security clearance. Demeter visualizes, "The group of a dozen or so of us [parents and C-SPAN employees included] ran down a series of corridors until we arrived at the door of Pelosi's office."

Pelosi eventually arrived, welcoming each entrant with a handshake and, in the words of Demeter, a "superficial" smile.

"As Donald [De Alwis] was speaking with Pelosi about his film on water pollution," Demeter says, "I slid my phone out of my suit pocket and began recording. Only once I posed my question to Pelosi did I overtly display my phone and capture her reaction of pure confusion."

As audible in the clip of Demeter's confrontation, he asks the Democratic Leader, "Why do you support the NSA's [National Security Agency] illegal and ubiquitous data collection?".

Pelosi, visibly shocked and stumbling with her words, seemingly evades Demeter's question and proceeds to diffuse responsibility of NSA programs from the democratic Obama Administration to the republican Bush Administration. Demeter believes, "It is, at minimum, hypocritical and, at maximum, disillusionment with the two-party system for Pelosi to support the NSA's bulk data collection and yet still criticize its precursor: the post-9/11 Patriot Act."

Despite the attempt of one of Pelosi's legislative aides to cut him off mid-sentence, Demeter continues, "I asked,'Isn't the NSA a violation of the Fourth Amendment?'. So quickly, almost instinctively, she [Pelosi] said 'No'."

Watch the VIDEO below:
Demeter attributes this detachment from the Supreme Law of the Land to Pelosi's "hyper-inflated ego" and explains, "She thinks and talks as though she is above the law, above the Constitution. I understand why, though. When I was eating breakfast one morning during the trip -- at The Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel, coincidentally two blocks from the Capitol -- I went to pour myself a glass of water from a pitcher on the table, but -- before I could -- the waiter ran from across the restaurant to the table, grabbed the pitcher from my hands, and poured the water for me. I was almost offended, actually."

Though, Demeter says he learned more after the encounter with Pelosi than he did during.

"Immediately after leaving the Capitol, a certain, to-be-unnamed entity from C-SPAN -- who had witnessed firsthand the exchange of dialogue between Pelosi and myself -- remarked, 'I saw you recording with your phone. Were you planning on posting that to YouTube?'. Unknowing at the time that my phone had only recorded the first half of the confrontation -- and then stopped filming due to insufficient storage space -- I tersely responded, 'Why does it matter?'."

Demeter was then shocked by the answer he was given. "The individual said something like, 'We wouldn't want to damage C-SPAN's relationship with Leader Pelosi and/or her office.'"

Following a lunch at Union Station spent desperately attempting to recover from his phone the full-length clip of his hard-hitting question to Pelosi, Demeter walked a few blocks back to C-SPAN (where he had been interviewed the day before) before flying home to Cleveland.

"When the elevator dinged at the third floor -- C-SPAN's floor --," Demeter reminisces with a subtle grin, "the doors opened, my father and I walked out, and we were spontaneously welcomed with the warm smile and firm handshake of Brian Lamb, the founder of C-SPAN."

According to Demeter, Lamb had already received news of the journalistic feat from one of his employees, subsequently congratulating and encouraging Demeter; a response much unlike the employee who had earlier questioned Demeter's motives.

But, "the plot thickens," Demeter claims.

"I returned home very late Tuesday night, but I wouldn't unpack -- or sleep, for that matter -- until I e-mailed C-SPAN. My footage may have been compromised, but C-SPAN's wasn't," Demeter chuckles.

"After tactfully writing an e-mail to a C-SPAN employee to respectfully request footage of the Pelosi confrontation, I went to bed. The following afternoon, I received a reply...but not from the C-SPAN employee I had e-mailed and, instead, from the very entity who had virtually intimidated me into not posting online the footage of Pelosi humiliating herself."

E-mail traffic between Demeter and the anonymous C-SPAN employee reveals the following:

DEMETER: Could you please send me the contact info of the cameraman who filmed the b-roll shots during our trip to the Capitol?

C-SPAN: is the gentleman who recorded the event, and I have copied him on this email. I will relay however that our agreement for the meet and greet with House Dem. Leader Pelosi was for photographs and b-roll only (no audio recording). While did have a mic attached to his camera, per our agreement, the audio would not be able to be used. It was an omission on my part not to relay that to you...

DEMETER: With all due respect, I would view C-SPAN's unwillingness to kindly provide me the aforementioned clip as a conflict of the network's philosophy of neutrality and unbiasedness. StudentCam, after all, emphasized the cruciality of broadcasting both sides of the story and not censoring one side or any other in order to fit a particular agenda.

C-SPAN: I’ll be happy to provide you with the video, but -- just to clarify -- my concern did not stem from any bias.

"Persistence is sacrosanct," Demeter reinforces. As for the video itself, the politically-active teen concludes, "After viewing the clip for the first time, my mother said, 'I hope you live to be eighteen.'".

The aspiring reporter/journalist, still optimistic, advises Americans, "If I -- a shy, socially inept high-school student -- can expose on a global scale the paradox that is politics, by asking nothing more than a question, then so too can you."


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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.