The Man Behind the Cameras
Larry Janezich started working in the Senate the year Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated- and journaled what he saw for almost 40 years
BY LAURA FINCH
Sirens wailed and a windgust caught the Senator’s tie, tossing it unceremoniously. Next to him on the roof stood a staffer, only 25, scanning the horizon through thick-rimmed glasses.
The date was April 5, 1968- the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Larry Janezich watched the U.S. Senator from Colorado watching plumes of smoke curl up from the center of Washington, D.C., evidence of the ongoing riots. They stayed atop the Russell Office Building until it was too cold to stay any longer, Janezich recalled.
Click to listen to Janezich read his journal entry from April 5, 1968.
From that day on, it was apparent to those around him that Janezich was addicted to the thrill of watching political history unfold in front of him. And since he spent 35 years directing the U.S. Senate Radio/TV Gallery, the only entity with the authority to issue press credentials to congressional reporters, Janezich had an incomparable front-row seat.
“He needed—and liked—to be there. He liked being a witness to history,” recalled Jeff Kent, who worked closely with Janezich in the Senate for more than ten years. “I don’t think he would ever say so, but his actions said so.”
If he didn’t say it then, Janezich readily admits now, nine years after retiring.
“I loved that job. I would have done it for nothing… I loved being in a position to observe firsthand the unfolding of major events and issues that were important to the country,” he said.
In a 1997 interview, Janezich explained the role of the Senate Radio/TV Gallery.
From his unique perch off of the Senate chamber, Janezich watched scandal after scandal, two impeachments, and attacks on the Capitol.
He also logged most of his recollections into journals which read like a log book or even a screenplay presenting the ‘glamorous’ of life at the Capitol alongside the very mundane.
Janezich recalls a day when a gunman killed two Capitol Police Officers.
Janezich is trying to edit these down to a state that might be helpful to the Senate historian, but seems to be having a hard time leaving anything out.
“I have more than 600,000 words and I’m not half done,” he said.
Bruce Collins, Corporate VP at C-SPAN, said Janezich “was always a meticulous note-taker.”
Kent, whom Janezich hired to work in the Radio/TV gallery and who now directs the Photographers’ Gallery, agreed, “He was a bit of a perfectionist. He always wanted near-verbatim notes in committees, almost like a transcript. Regular notes were not enough.”
Of course, Sept. 11, 2001 was a day Janezich recorded in his journal a little more meticulously than usual.
Just after reports of the Pentagon being hit at 9:55 a.m., his gallery was evacuated. After making sure his staff were all gone, Janezich locked himself in the fourth floor reporter’s gallery to watch CNN without interruption from pesky Capitol Police officers.
“I thought the security people were probably overreacting and I wanted to monitor what was happening on the television,” he said simply.
One word comes to his mind when Janezich describes the way he felt on 9/11, and it may summarize his feelings about Washington in general: Excited.
“The adrenaline is really pumping through you,” he said. “I just thought, ‘My God, I don’t want to be anywhere else right now.’”
Click to listen to Janezich read from his journal entry dated Sept. 11, 2001.
Janezich hasn’t been back inside the Capitol in the nearly 10 years since he retired from the Gallery in 2005, despite living just a few blocks away. (On his retirement, he was recognized in the Congressional Record.)
Without his credentials and the permission to go anywhere, he said, it just wouldn’t be the same.
Instead, he has created a blog—Capitol Hill Corner—through which he monitors the local politics and the activities of Washington, D.C. commissioners and task forces with the same precision as if they were Senate hearings.
Janezich isn’t shy about discussing his transition from disseminator and facilitator to editor and publisher: “I’m a better journalist than a lot of people who are considered journalists… that cover community events on the hill, or in Washington, for that matter.”
In fact, there are very few first-tier journalists covering the Senate anymore, Janezich says today.
Having started in the Gallery in 1970, he watched the advent of cameras in the Senate and the effect they had overall: ““It’s like the Heisenberg principle: you can’t turn a light on something without changing it…
“The Senate itself has become a place where scripts are played out for television cameras.”