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Billings photojournalist guest at State of Union Address

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Posted at 9:33 PM, Mar 07, 2024

Longtime Billings photojournalist Larry Mayer attended Thursday night’s State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C., but not to report on it. Mayer was a guest of Montana Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale.

Each representative is allowed to bring one guest, and Mayer was chosen by Rosendale because ofthe photos of a Chinese spy balloon that he snapped as it made its way over Billings.

Of all the stories that Mayer has covered over the years, the balloon turned into one of the biggest. He was interviewed by several media outlets while in DC about how he broke the story, which he says started out with trying to find out why the airport had closed.

“When nobody would tell me why it was being closed, that’s when I started to push and to send out all the pictures of the balloon and to military people and state government in Montana. Eventually that led to the Pentagon telling me that they were preparing a response, which they didn’t actually do until the next day,” Mayer said in a phone interview with MTN.

Related: Billings Gazette photographer documents Montana for nearly 50 years

The balloon was eventually shot down off the coast of South Carolina. Republicans, including Rosendale, have blasted the Biden Administration’s response to the incident.

“Having Larry as my guest at the State of the Union serves as a reminder to Biden that no matter what he says, he cannot hide how vulnerable he has made our country,” Rosendale said in news release.

While Mayer is used to reporting on events, he says he is just there to take it all in.

“It’s a little bit frustrating because I can’t even take a camera inside,” he says.

Mayer says he was given a tour of congressional chambers and saw a few sights around DC before sitting in on a natural resources hearing.

He says he agreed to be Rosendale’s guest because attending the State of the Union is something he would never get the opportunity to do again.

“I felt like it was an honor to witness the State of Union in person,” he says.