Flashback: When the Media Thought Reporters Asking Impertinent Questions Were Horrible

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump fields a question from Univision and Fusion
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The mainstream media certainly does have flexible standards when it comes to impudent reporters with not-so-hidden agendas asking politicians impertinent questions. Actually, in the current example of Univision’s Jorge Ramos versus Donald Trump, the activist-journalist didn’t even ask a question – he just jumped up and started spouting a manifesto – but some in the media think it was a wonderful example of “journalism” that Trump should not have interrupted.

Is Jorge Ramos exclusively entitled to commandeer events for his own theatrical performances, or is that all journalists? Things will get a bit confusing if everyone gets to jump up and start yelling his talking points at the nominal featured speaker. Follow-up question: are all politicians required to stand quietly while the activist-journalists vent their spleens? I can’t imagine, say, Hillary Clinton putting up with that, in the unlikely event she ever decides to have a public meeting with her friends in the press again. Hillary doesn’t even handle fair and polite questions very well, never mind curveballs from aggressive reporters who aren’t invited guests at her social functions..

Clearly the media doesn’t think Barack Obama should have to tolerate impertinent questions. The two examples of Ramosian behavior that spring quickly to mind are Major Garrett of CBS News going after Obama on the Iran deal recently, and Neil Munro of the Daily Caller challenging him on immigration in 2012. In both of those cases, the reporters were excoriated by some of the same people who applauded Ramos.

Both Garrett and Munro actually asked Obama questions, instead of interrupting his press events to give little speeches on his nickel. Garrett asked his question at the proper moment during Q&A, after being called upon. Munro shouted his at Obama out of turn, although he later said he thought the President’s prepared remarks were over.

Garrett’s basic questions were perfectly fair, although even his fans, and Obama’s critics, would have to admit the CBS correspondent slipped a bit of loaded language in there. Somehow loaded language never seems to be a problem when it’s a Republican in the hot seat, but let us be sporting enough to concede that Garrett’s phrasing was very aggressive:

As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran — three held on trumped-up charges and according to your administration and one whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content with all the fanfare around this deal to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans? And last week the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons. It is perceived that that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations. Many in the Pentagon feel you’ve left the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung out to dry. Would you comment?

Obama’s response was a bit peevish, and he punished Garrett for his impudence by vomiting an almost completely meaningless word salad in his face:

I’ve to give you credit for how you craft those questions. The notion that I’m content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails — Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better. I’ve met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody is content, and our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out. Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates.

Suddenly Iran realizes, you know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals. Makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal, and, by the way, if we had walked away from the nuclear deal, we’d still be pushing them just as hard to get these folks out. That’s why those issues are not connected, but we are working every single day to try to get them out and won’t stop until they are out and rejoined with their families.

You can parse that answer for the rest of your life, and it will never make sense, even if you skip past the parts where The Greatest Orator In History clearly lost his train of thought and started babbling. We didn’t dare ask about Iran’s hostages, because that might have reminded them about the hostages, and then they might have taken me to the cleaners even more than they already did? By the way, how are your decoupled-from-the-nuke-deal negotiations with Iran for the release of those hostages coming along six weeks later, Mr. President?

The media was scandalized that Garrett dared to ask such a question of Obama. His own network described him as being “scolded” and “spanked” by the President.

For his part, Garrett defended his “provocative” question. “Politicians, especially those elected as President, are very adept at creating straw men. That’s exactly what the President did,” he declared. “Clearly it struck an serve. That was my intention…Was it provocative? Yes. Was it intended to be as such? Absolutely.”

He also said the most heavily loaded phrase he threw at Obama, the bit about whether the President was “content” with Iran keeping Americans hostage, was borrowed from the Administration’s own rhetoric.

As for Munro, his heresy involved asking Obama why he favored foreigners over Americans in his executive orders to block deportations for illegal aliens.

Obama never actually answered the question at all. Initially, the President snapped, “Excuse me, sir, it’s not time for questions.” When Munro asked if questions would eventually be allowed, Obama responded, “Not while I’m speaking,” which is essentially how Trump handled Ramos’ outburst. The media didn’t seem to think Munro was the crusading hero in that particular encounter.

Trump eventually brought Ramos back into his event to talk to him. Obama never actually did take any questions at his event, but he tracked Munro down in the press area afterwards and said, “And the answer to your question, sir — and the next time I’d prefer you let me finish my statements before you ask that question — is this is the right thing to do for the American people.”

That still isn’t remotely close to an answer to Munro’s question – it’s a blind assertion of authority and a demand for unquestioning obedience – plus it’s a bit rich to lecture reporters about politely waiting for question opportunities that never actually come. Obama then walked off in a huff, while Muro shouted “What about American workers who are unemployed while you import foreigners?” at his departing back.

Again, the media didn’t seem to regard this as an admirably aggressive effort by a determined journalist to get answers from a politician notorious for calling “press conferences” at which he drops prepared statements and then zips off without answering any questions. Generally speaking, the press is happy to play along with this behavior in Obama’s case, and rarely finds it necessary to remind readers that he’s not always in the mood for Q&A.

Clearly assuming nobody remembers what happened with Munro, the White House actually had the brass to needle Trump about throwing Ramos out of his event today. “I’m not sure that it’s a successful media strategy to physically remove reporters who are asking tough questions,” sniped spokesman Josh Earnest, before dumping the usual rhetoric about how it’s “alarming to a lot of people” that Republican presidential candidates are speaking out against illegal immigration.

Was it “alarming” when Barack Obama couldn’t answer a question about why he placed foreigners above American citizens in his executive orders?


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