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!
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]’.
UPDATE II: 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 is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.