The Time I Got My Own Seat

By Makena Kelly

A few weeks ago, after I had straggled my way back from the Federal Communications Commission, my editor walked up to me and said, “Welcome back. I have another story for ya’.”

Whenever my editor tells me that I get excited.

He assigned me to cover an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on anti-doping. A little boring—not really in my jurisdiction. I don’t know much about no sports. But, more excitingly so, 28 gold medalist Michael Phelps was going to be testifying.

What?

They’re sending the intern out to do this?

Yep. They sent me.

So, that Tuesday I went to work a little early and did a little pre-write because I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus throughout the entire thing. I studied past legislation. How much money does Congress appropriate to the Olympics? Who are all these people who are not Michael Phelps? How do I turn this into a policy story?

I rolled up to Rayburn House Office Building that Tuesday morning wearing an outfit I was proud of. Who knew if I was going to be on TV?

In the corner of the press section was a little chair with a white piece of printer paper. It said, “Reserved: Makenna Kelly, CQ”. Ok. They spelled my name wrong, but having a reserved seat in a packed house of fanatic Congressmen was pretty cool.

And, the hearing began. It was the standard Chairman and Ranking Member remarks. These Congresspeople didn’t have any specific policy-centered questions prepared—you could tell they had this hearing just so they could meet Phelps. Eh, I don’t blame them.

Leaders from various Olympics and anti-doping organizations spoke and gave sly, grief-ridden remarks to each other out of the corners of their mouths.

Michael Phelps gave his personal testimony. It was pretty standard to say the least, but the press went bonkers. Camera people were all over the place; ESPN, C-SPAN, CNN. You name it, they were crouched on the floor looking for the perfect angle of the most-adorned Olympian of all time.

And throughout all of the hubbub, I had to write my story and have it in before the hearing was over.

There’s something you learn on Capitol Hill after a few months that no one really tells you about. You learn how to stop listening. At some point, you need to be able to close your ears and write, because Congresspeople love to say the same things over and over again.

So, that’s what I did.

And by the end of the story, I realized there was no policy angle. This committee invited Michael Phelps to the Capitol with no plan for legislation. I was angry. They seriously just wanted to have a cool hearing with an Olympian.

Right when I was thinking that, Chairman Murphy adjourned the hearing and the press secretary walked over to my seat and said, “Press availability afterwards.”

So, I threw my computer in my backpack in an angry fit thinking, “I am going to have a clip where I quote Michael Phelps, God damn it!”

And, I rushed to the front of the press pool. The reporters in front of cameras asked questions first—all focused to Phelps. And after a few questions there was a little silence and I blurted out, with ESPN and C-SPAN cameras pointing at me:

“Excuse me, Chairman Murphy, what does Congress plan to do though? What is the next step in enforcing these anti-doping rules?” I asked.

Chairman Murphy said something to the effect of, “Oh, we’ll have another hearing in a few months and see what happens.”

In typical Congressional fashion.

I wrote my story, spoke with my editor, and threw together somewhat of a policy-oriented lede and it was published.

And now, I get to say that the most decorated Olympian in history, Michael Phelps, had to step aside from the limelight so I could be on television over him. Just so I could ask a question to a Congressman.