Once again the bar is lowered on expected and “given” behaviors in American discourse. And, once again, just watch some folks defend it. Each time it’s lowered, then it means it’s likely to occur again.

In this case, if it does, then say goodbye to any vestige of Presidents or Senators for that matter being allowed to finish delivering statements to the press and public in their official offices without being interrupted by ideology-anchored news media. For decades all over the world the lines have been clear: when a head of state gives a speech or delivers a statement reporters don’t interrupt him or her by shouting out questions.

And so what we have here is truly unprecedented: when President Barack Obama was was delivering his statement at the White house on his immigration policy change, a reporter from a Republican conservative website interrupted Obama in mid-speech. And spare me saying it happens all the time. It hasn’t. And if you can provide me a similar example of this — unless it was someone who snuck into the press room — kindly send it to me.

Here’s the segment of the speech via Mediaite:

Here are the statements from The Daily Caller about the incident that you just watched. Does this seem like an error of timing to you? Does this seem analogous to other reporters shouting questions at Presidents when statements or speeches were clearly over? Or does it seem to you that it’s clear Obama was not through.

The best take on it is HERE via Jonathan Chait. It needs to be in full but here’s the key part:

[Daily Caller owner Tucker] Carlson tells Michael Calderone that [Neil] Munro’s “critics ought to make it official and take a gig at the White House.” In Carlson’s mind, undue love of Barack Obama is the only possible reason to object to journalists screaming in the middle of a presidential speech.
There’s a reflexive tendency in Washington to tut-tut about “respect for the office of the presidency,” and in general I take the position that there’s far too much respect for the office. Presidents should have questions shouted at them sometimes. There is, however, a line. You don’t get to stop the president from completing his speech.
Carlson, hilariously, defends himself:

“Politicians don’t get to make a statement and then retreat to a fortified castle,” Carlson said, adding that “our job is to find out what’s going on with federal government on our time-table.”

The Daily Caller’s timetable apparently was a need to know answers in the middle of the speech. Just like Woodward and Bernstein!

Some thoughts:

1. Carlson’s reaction suggests either a)a massive CYA (which won’t work) or b)an ignorance of how journalism works or how reporters have allows without incident asked their questions following Presidential statements or speeches. Over the years I did reporting in the U.S., Mexico, India, Bangladesh and Spain. One reporter I met in India years ago now writes on TMV. In no country do real reporters interrupt leaders delivering statements or speeches. Again, if you can find another example like this please let me know. (Oh and don’t tell me about the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at George W. Bush). Carlson’s response indicates that he is enabling, condoning and even encouraging this kind of non-journalistic, unprofessional behavior.

2. Wouldn’t it be simpler for him and Obama’s interrupter to simply apologize and move on? Since there is no apology mainstream and serious new media will now have a perception of Tucker that may endear him to some confrontation-vraving talk show fans and make him their hero but will “brand” his site in a way he may not wish in terms of the rest of the journalistically civilized world.

3. Sam Donaldson and other journalists asking aggressive questions never shouted out questions during a President reading or making a statement or speech. Professional reporters wait until a statement or speech is over and then they ask their questions.

4. Good, solid, follow-up questions do qualify as legitimate journalism. You don’t do that during a speech. If a reporter asks questions after a speech or talk and asks follow up questions a President or politician may try to diss the reporter but good follow-ups are a vital part of journalism.

5. This doesn’t represent how journalists and those interested in news gathering or serious opinion writing would approach covering a press conference or speech. Nor would they make this kind of “mistake” — and if it’s so easy to make it, why hasn’t this happened before? Some years ago I was at a blogging seminar at a major university in California. I was on panels with some top conservative and liberal bloggers. They all met after in front of a pool for drinks and invited me to join them. They kept their debate up but it was indeed civil and serious. I’ve also met several bloggers in my travels the past few years. None of them would do that.

6. This kind of incident hurts the image of the new news media. Blogs were once seen as a chance to extend citizen journalism; they have really morphed into citizen op-ed pages. As Seinfeld would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Many in the mainstream media still view bloggers as unprofessional, opinionated blowhards, even though blogs of all stripes do contain some serious and good analysis (and even, sometimes, original reporting). In recent years the new media have been accepted into the press corps by the White House and other organizations because it was assumed those who represented websites were professionals — differing from mainstream media mostly by the fact that bloggers don’t have to jump through all the educational, farm-system, dues paying and office politics hoops that journalists working for news organizations have to jump through.

7. If you watch the video it doesn’t appear to be a mistake whatsoever in the timing of the question. Watch the video yourself.

8. Once again, Andrew Sullivan must be Andrew Psychic because he says exactly what I had in my first draft of this but since he says it so much better I’ll let him say it:

It’s actually useful for people to know that the Daily Caller has only a tangential relationship to journalism. It’s a circus for Breitbart wannabes. For the record, Tucker Carlson, for whom I once had a smidgen of respect, concedes that the reporter was indeed “heckling” in the middle of a statement – rather than asking a legitimate tough question afterwards – but concludes:

We’re proud of Neil Munro

9. You can’t imagine Ed Morrissey, or Allahpundit on the right or Markos Moulitsas Zúniga or John Arvosis on the left interrupting a President of the opposition party that way. And, if they did, they would probably say, “Sorry” after the President’s first word. If someone associated with their site did it, I’m sure all of the four above would make it clear to them — and others — that this is not the something that would ever happen again.

But don’t hold your breath on it not happening again. The bar has now been lowered. Excuses are being made — but no apologies.And unless this incident is really repudiated across ideological party and media type lines, it is likely to occur again.

And can our bar go any lower?

You can hold your breath on that, because I can give you the answer quickly:

It can — and, more likely than not, it will.

UPDATE: The Daily Mail has this update. Read it and you can see that they don’t agree with Carlson’s defense of his reporter. And, by the way, you’ll see that neither does former George W. Bush spokesman Tony Fratto:

President Obama became embroiled in a furious confrontation with a political reporter who heckled him as he announced his new immigration policy in the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday.

During Obama’s speech, Neil Munro, an Irish-born reporter for conservative website the Daily Caller, yelled: ‘Why do you favour foreigners over American workers?’

A clearly rattled Mr Obama, who was announcing plans to allow 800,000 illegal immigrants to the stay in the U.S., responded: ‘Not while I’m speaking.’

As the president tried to carry on with his speech, Munro continued to heckle him, drawing an angry response from Mr Obama and fellow reporters.

The bizarre confrontation overshadowed Obama’s announcement, and is likely to turn Mr Munro into something of a cause celebre among those opposed to the controversial plans.

It also triggered a furious debate about the media’s treatment of Obama, with one commentator asking whether a white president would have been heckled.

And in a sign of the almost unprecedented nature of the confrontation, former George W. Bush spokesman Tony Fratto tweeted after the broadcast: ‘Reporters don’t interrupt presidential statements. Period. @NeilMunroDC should be banned from [the White House]’.

Crooks and Liars:

As you can see, Munro chirps up well before there’s any indication that Obama has wrapped up — and indeed, does it while Obama is in mid-sentence!

Actually, it’s being generous to presume that Munro was simply being incompetent. This looks like the typical kind of provocation we’ve come to expect from right-wing propagandists posing as real reporters.

Graphic via shutterstock.com

JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
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Copyright 2012 The Moderate Voice
  • The_Ohioan

    Disrespect was directed at President Bush – because of his policies and because of his execution of those policies. The disrespect directed at President Obama seems to be more personal animus than based on policy decisions.

    Shouting “You lie” (also about immigration) in the middle of a State of the Union message – unprecedented. Ignoring a request to address congress then deciding the date the President requested was not convenient – unprecedented. Refusing to attend a State of the Union – unprecedented. Why this unprecedented disrespect for a sitting president is occurring now is open to interpretation.

    We know some things. A new study says Obama would have won bigger if not for race.

    We know the Secret Service reports the rate of threats against President Obama is up 400% over President Bush.

    We know we’ve never seen signs like those at the Tea Party rallies since the busing controversy in the 1970’s.


    We know a very smart woman said Obama couldn’t win because of race. She should have said he couldn’t govern because of race.

    This is something black people can’t say without being called racist or “playing the race card”. I’m not black. I’m saying it. The people using the disrespect tactics may not be racists. They have no compunction about using those tactics to inflame those who are. Chris Matthews for a while talked about how worried he was about the “zeitgeist” in the air. I’m worried as well, but no I’m longer going to pussyfoot around about calling it what it is. It’s racism. If we don’t face it and fight it now, we never will.

  • PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor

    Absolutely no excuse for what the idiot “reporter” did. He ought to have his credentials pulled.

    But I do find the “well my side only is critical of the other side when they deserve it” is also a bit old.

  • PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor

    Ok for some reason it cut off part of my response.

    To recap, the behavior of the reporter was totally inexcusable and I agree that no professional reporter from either side of the political fence would have acted that way with any President.

    That said, there is plenty of disrespect on both sides, which is sad.

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    Discipline is the earmark of the well trained professional journalist. ‘Citizen op ed,’ is different. Some get their five minutes for having political Tourette’s in op ed format, then go the way of others forgotten in time.

    Some tout ‘shout outs’ as brave. Not in my book in this circumstance. Just for proportion, real bravery, confrontation: I’d copy my father and grandfathers perspective about bravery: stand in a war and face death. Respect earned by standing when your life and other lives are threatened by death in this very moment, death right now. Not metaphoric death. Not maybe, kinda, sorta, could be death. Not pre-planning to purposely blurt in front of cameras during a meeting of people, 99.5% of whom are unarmed.

    Most often grandstanding isnt done to change matters for the better. It’s done to get strokes from those who’d agree. However, most grandstanders (not to be confused with activists like martin king, chavez, etc) are dropped on their heads when their quasi supporters find new blood to ‘shout out as the ‘old ones’ will be barred from most if not all gatherings.

  • PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor

    There is, IMHO, a difference between shouting a question when the President/politician in question is just ignoring questions and when they are still speaking.

    Then again Daily Caller is hardly the peak of journalistic integrity

  • Dr. J

    This was pretty bad behavior.

    Maybe this is the twitter effect, whereby everyone regardless of station becomes accessible to everyone else. It’s startling to see a president stripped of the aura of respect that presidents have always gotten, to see democracy democratized too far.

  • cjjack

    Was what this “reporter” did disrespectful to the office of the President? Absolutely.

    Was it unprofessional and a disgrace to journalism at large? You bet.

    But more importantly (in my opinion), it was flat-out rude. If the guy were a local television reporter covering the opening of a new store who interrupted the ribbon cutting ceremony, or a heckler at a comedy club, my reaction – had I been standing next to the guy – would be the same.

    “Sit down and shut up, this isn’t about you.”

  • adelinesdad

    TO, the “study” you cite is highly questionable and I don’t think would even qualify as a study even by the author of it. For one thing, I think the assumption that only liberals were motivated to vote for Obama because of his race is highly doubtful. You could just as well argue that only Republicans would not vote for him because of his race, but that would contradict his argument so he goes to great trouble to prove that wrong while not putting his own convenient assumption up to the same rigor.

    But, of course I wouldn’t argue there is no racism. But, your argument that that makes every criticism of the president racially motivated is quite a leap.

    I have no idea if this guy is racist, but I don’t see any reason to suppose that. He was clearly out of line, and the President was right to be angry.

  • drbob10001

    Look, Republicans and their supporters are bullies, plain and simple. From liking to fire people, to cutting the locks of a different kind of class mate long ago Romney is the poster boy for the “you lie” thuggery that has taken over the party of the bully rich. The so-called moderates and independents who support the Republicans in light of their anti-immigrant, anti-gay and anti-women stands, despite their rationalizations based on the “economy,” are wanna be bullies just chomping at the bit for the pleasure of pushing someone around. Enough already, it’s time that the media take its responsibility seriously and call them all out.

  • The_Ohioan


    The study doesn’t say only liberals were motivated to vote for him. Obviously some conservatives did, also, or the numbers wouldn’t have been so high. He’s not comparing Democrats to Republicans anyway. In fact “Republican” appears only once in the piece. Perhaps a second read would clear all that up.

    I’m not a scientist so don’t know if the study was valid or not, you would have to take that up with the NY Times. It’s been a long time since I did any research, but I don’t see a problem with his concept. If you find a reputable refutation, I’d be glad to look at it.

    “your argument that that makes every criticism of the president racially motivated is quite a leap.”

    Of course I said no such thing. I certainly have criticized Obama, as you should well know, if you have been here any length of time and it wasn’t because of his race.

    What I said was the disrespect shown by the congress people I gave examples of and used by this reporter is unprecedented. I have no idea if Mr. Munro is a racist or not, either. Nor does it matter. What he did was disrespectful and encourages more disrespect which was the point of this article.

    My conclusion, you don’t have to agree, is that the unprecedented disrespect this President has recieved from before he was even elected is a product of racism. Unprecedented is the qualifier.

  • zephyr

    There is no excuse for such crappy behavior nor is there any excuse for apologism, rationalization – nor any “both sides” nonsense. What Dr Bob and Dr E said. Our country is awash in low standards and it is painful to watch. There needs to be more accountability, just as there is accountability for children who test the limits of bad behavior with their parents.

  • StockBoyLA

    No excuse for this behavior and in fact there should be more respect in this country overall. Too many people in this country are rude. No one should interrupt someone else when they are speaking. And if someone is speaking too much, then they should shut up and let someone else get a word in. It’s just as rude to hog the entire conversation as it is to interrupt. Rudeness comes in many forms, all of which are prevalent in America today.

  • kafantaris

    A reporter reports. When you insert yourself into the story, by heckling or otherwise, you become part of the story.
    Being on the side of the angels does not change this. You are still an observer — the eyes and ears for the rest of us who are not there. In your own style, we merely want you to tell us what you saw and heard.
    If you cannot settle for this limited role and have the urge to do more, then please leave your reporter’s credentials at the door. There is nothing wrong with acting on your convictions. But you absolutely cannot do so while covering an event you are reporting on.
    This is the golden rule of journalism. Even pundits try to follow it.

  • DaGoat

    Munro’s an idiot, and a rude one. No excuse for interrupting the president like that.

    What’s also pretty sad though is that this is the big story on Memeorandum this AM. What does it say about the shallowness of the blogosphere when the actions of a rude reporter are bigger news than a momentous decision by the president?

  • CStanley

    Yeah, rude and stupid….because as DaGoat pointed out, this guy became the story. It seems that rather than actually trying to get a response to a question, his goal was probably to highlight the reticence to answer questions (which is I think a perennial and valid complaint by journalists in these settings.) Had he not been rude about it, but instead shouted out at the end even if he didn’t get an answer then he could report that Obama refused to answer questions about this important policy shift. Instead the story is that of course Obama wasn’t willing to stop mid-sentence to take questions befor the announcement was even completed.

    Having said that, i happen to think there’s too much deference given to presidents in these kinds of settings and i really don’t blame reporters for pushing back, as long as it’s done properly. And i do wonder about Joe’s claim that all other countries practice that decorum (i’m not questioning Joe’s experience with this, just saying that it may not be universal.) i’m thinking particularly of the UK, because although i don’t recall if I’ve seen interactions at press conferences there is certainly a lot more give and take between opposition party members in parliamentary sessions. I could be wrong but there seems to be a lot less deference and more verbal sparring, which i would imagine taking place between journalists and party ministers there too, which i think is a healthy thing. I’m sure there are times that are more formal settings where deference should be given, but it seems a bit to me that our presidents tend to manage the settings a bit too much by opting to speak in those formats too much and not in the settings that allow or encourage questioning.

  • StockBoyLA

    CStanleyu: “I’m sure there are times that are more formal settings where deference should be given, but it seems a bit to me that our presidents tend to manage the settings a bit too much by opting to speak in those formats too much and not in the settings that allow or encourage questioning.”

    OK… then what setting would you recommend as better than a press conference for a president to address a large number of international reporters and encourage questioning?

  • DaGoat

    OK… then what setting would you recommend as better than a press conference for a president to address a large number of international reporters and encourage questioning?

    I read about that press conference yesterday but can’t find much about it. Your question is kind of a deflection since the press conference you speak of was not the way Obama chose to present his views to the country, rather he wanted to come out, make a statement and go back in the White House.

    To answer your question though, a better way would have been to hold a press conference with the usual US journalists. I understand his decision impacts other countries but there is no reason to make that the primary focus of the conference.

  • StockBoyLA

    “To answer your question though, a better way would have been to hold a press conference with the usual US journalists.”

    I hear that! With the usual US journalists we wouldn’t have had riff raff like Neil Munro.

  • CStanley

    Stockboy- as DaGoat said, this wasn’t a press conference, it was a formal statement read out to reporters in the Rose Garden. My criticism here isn’t specific to Obama, as our presidents have done this sort of thing for as long as I can remember. Most interaction and questioning between journalists and the White House goes on with the press secretaries, who insulate the president….I just don’t think that’s a very healthy way for the public to get information and have questions answered in a democratic system.

  • DaGoat

    I could be getting confused – I thought I read a couple of days ago Obama was going to have a Q&A with international reporters on this topic, and assumed that’s what Stockboy was referring to. Now I can’t find anything about it so possibly I misunderstood what I read.

    So far anyway as far as I know Obama has ducked any questioning on this. He’ll send out his surrogates to the Sunday talk shows then let Jay Carney get beat up tomorrow in the press briefing.

  • The_Ohioan


    I think that’s always the way Presidents handle controversial actions. I could be wrong. It only makes sense to let surrogates field questions for a while, then make a further elucidation in future press conferences or (in an election year) in campaign speeches.

  • StockBoyLA

    What’s-his-name interrupted President Obama and wanted a question answered and President Obama DID answer what’s-his-name’s question. The answer is in the video. As far as other questions from other journalists… I honestly don’t know how many questions Obama ended up answering. I always thought the WH press secretary’s job was to hold regular press conferences and answer reporters’ questions. It’s what Bush’s press secretary did whenever Bush had a controversial topic (or even non-controversial topic). Not sure why it is expected that Obama has to hold press conferences all the time and answer questions. If so Obama can become the press secretary and promote the press secretary to be president to handle the workload the office of president demands.

  • CStanley

    SB- if you’ll reread you’ll see that I raised the point with regard to all of our presidents, past, present, and future. I think we ‘d be better served if presidents would hold more press conferences instead of being shielded by their press secretaries.