Ethics Hero: CBS’ Major Garrett

major_garrettDuring President Obama‘s Iran deal press conference,  CBS’ Major Garrett broke ranks with his softball lobbing colleagues  by asking, “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?”

President Obama flared, reprimanding the reporter by snarling, “That’s nonsense, and you should know better.”

Garret was immediately criticized for being disrespectful. CNN’s Dana Bash criticized her colleague,  opining that “There’s a fine line between asking a tough question and maybe crossing that line a little bit and being disrespectful, and I think that happened here.” Bill Maher ran to fetch the typical weapon of last (first?) resort employed by Obama apologists since January, 2009: the race card. “Major Garrett is a huge asshole,” he tweeted.  “If U wanna “strike a nerve” with POTUS, why not just scream the N word? That should get his attention.” Garrett has been unapologetic.

No doubt: it was a hostile question. A decade or more ago, I might have thought it crossed a line. But the issue Garrett raised was an important and obvious one in the context of the President once again cockily taking a victory lap over a dubious achievement, and for this citizen, at least, it gave me hope that the mainstream media’s days of serving as a virtual Pravda to a leader’s every move might be slowly coming to an end. The media’s deference to this President has been disgraceful and has undermined our democracy, public discourse, trust in the press  and the right to know what our government is doing. CBS’s Steve Kroft actually admiited—proudly!—that his “60 Minutes” was a favored venue for Obama because he knew that he would be treated with kid gloves.

Well, the news media isn’t supposed to treat the powerful with kid gloves. American journalism is supposed to be, indeed ethically obligated to be, suspicious, probing, objective and adversarial, which described Garrett’s question exactly. This White House has bullied the press and punditry when they have not fallen into lockstep, with the President unethically criticizing Fox News and various citizen commentators by name. All three of Obama’s press secretaries have relayed an arrogant attitude and a stinginess with candor. Cover-ups abound. After seven years of this treatment, reporters should know that their methods aren’t working to inform the public, and that, not scraping and bowing to Obama, should be their primary concern.

In the Seventies, White House beat reporter Dan Rather was insolent and even insulting to President Richard Nixon in press conferences, and roundly praised for it. It also made him famous, was cited as exemplary “tough” journalism, and made him Walter Cronkite’s successor. ABC’s Sam Donaldson was a dim bulb indeed, but he got in Ronald Reagan face during press conferences, and became a media star as a result. By the standards of Donaldson and Rather, Garrett was Miss Manners. Ideally a reporter should be able to be tough, objective, adversarial and respectful too, except that today’s Democrats, and certainly Obama, view anything but wide-eyed adoration as treasonous. There shouldn’t be one standard for questioning white Republican Presidents and another for a black Democrat, and if the choice is adversarial audacity like Rather’s or the partisan cheer-leading the current news media has adopted for Obama, there really is no choice at all.

Major Garret chose correctly, it took guts, and he should be praised for it by anyone who believes in an independent and objective news media.

Oh–Obama never did answer the question. That leads to a potential competence issue for Garrett: his “tone” gave the President an opening to change the subject.

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44 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: CBS’ Major Garrett

  1. I’m going to continue my rant for the day. Superman is a failed hero. Instead of becoming the idol of Journalists as Clark Kent, he became the idol of Cops who don’t want to follow the process of law and constitution as Superman. There’s a reason Superman no longer fights for the “American Way.”

  2. I wondered what your take would be on this question and Garrett’s tone. Was Major Garrett tough? Yes. Direct? Yes. Blunt? Yes. Confrontational? Yes. All of those things. I was surprised by it, frankly, but then I remembered that Garrett used to be on Fox News. Does this signal that the media has realized that the show is almost over so they don’t have to play nice in the sandbox anymore?

    The more striking thing about the exchange was Obama’s rebuke. I am still trying to figure what he meant by “. . . and you should know better”. He obviously was not amused at Garrett’s audacious question of touchdown spike while 4 US citizens languish in Iranian jails. His tone and demeanor, on the other hand, were less than presidential. The stilted, halting manner and nature of his response. along with the piercing glares, said volumes to the others in the press room. I don’t recall another president openly chastise a reporter for asking a direct question in this manner. Reagan had his ‘Well, there you go again . . .” moments; George Bush the Younger didn’t do it (as I recall), and I don’t recall Clinton doing it either (well, except for the “I did not have sexual relations . . .” response). Obama looked petulant and immature, and clearly not very diplomatic.

    jvb

    • That glare was barely-suppressed narcissistic rage, and swallowing that probably ate a hole in his stomach and, hopefully, aged him by about a decade. I know that hating him has taken a few years off of my lifespan.

    • In fairness I thought Obama did eventually answer the question, and his answer was not that bad. He basically said that tying in the negotiations over hostages with the freeing up of sanctions would encourage more hostage taking in the future. Debatable, but plausible.

    • If things were truly as he would have them, Obama would have this man’s life snuffed out for daring to utter such brazen impertinence. I’d bet my life in it.

  3. I remember one incident during George W. Bush’s presidency, when a reporter threw him a softball question, and it turned out that the “reporter” was a plant. I thought that was a pretty despicable move, but I can empathize with W: he didn’t have an entire press corps full of softball pitchers, so he had to hire his own.

  4. He absolutely DID answer the question, and very bluntly. The answer is that when you engage in negotiation with enemies, if you cannot isolate particular issues to negotiate apart from the totality of the relationship, then you are screwed.
    Nixon negotiated trade with China despite the disagreements around 100 other issues. Reagan negotiated arms disarmament with the Soviet union, despite calling them the evil empire in the midst of the cold war. Putin sided with the U.S. On this issue despite disagreements with us over Ukraine, and more, and Obama pointedly recognized this.

    You HAVE to be able to isolate issues and compartmentalize them in negotiation. Which is why it was insulting to suggest that Obama was ignoring or discounting other critical issues in negotiating the nuclear treaty.

    If EVERY negotiation must link EVERY issue of difference, nothing would get done.

    And Major DID petfecctky well know this, which is why Ibama rightly called him on it.

    ( And by the way, I think Nixon would’ve been perfectly within his rights to call Dan Rather on rather’ own impertinent snarky comment as well).

    • Charles, every negotiation is different. THIS negotiation should have included the release of the Americans—what Nixon was concerned with is irrelevant. Similarly, any Palestinian-Israeli agreement must be predicated on an agreement that Israel has a right to exits. As the Economist article you previously quoted said, Iran needed this agreement far more than the U.S. There was no downside in telling the Iranians: “Send our people home, then we’ll talk. Non-negotiable.”

      • Don’t think so, Jack. The others in P5+1 were never going to support a precondition of negotiation being the releasing of the Americans. It has always been easy for the US to scupper the negotiations, but not at the same time to maintain international support. Maybe you think that wouldn’t matter and the US could throttle the Iranian economy on its own? Recent history suggests the US struggles to control even the activities of its own multinationals. And there is a whole industry of investment banks structuring deals to get around rules and regulations.

        • So what? Let them negotiate their own treaty then. The US was acting weak, as Obama prefers, when there was no justification for it. I agree the the sanctions would be hard to hold…that’s between the US and its allies. A bad treaty with a regime guaranteed to violate it is not just a bad option, it’s not an option at all. Magical thinking is never a responsible option. And if force is the only option, its the only option.

          • “A bad treaty with a regime guaranteed to violate it…Magical thinking…”

            A hundred former US ambassadors, from administrations of both parties, disagree with you and consider it a responsible step.

            You suggest the alternative is to walk away and “let the others negotiate their own treaty.” Superpowers don’t abdicate their responsibility when it comes to something like admission to the global thermonuclear club. Doing nothing at all amounts to granting free license to create nuclear weapons, which is what this whole thing was about – surely you don’t believe the US doing nothing would REDUCE the likelihood of Iran getting the bomb?

            I take your point about whether or not there could have been a more a tougher agreement – I have no idea myself, but at least it’s a plausible question. But it’s also hypothetical, and therefore irrelevant. At this point, the only practically relevant question on the table is whether or not to take the agreement that was negotiated by the P5+1.

            It’s hard to see how stepping away from engagement is a net positive move for us or for the world. It isn’t “magical thinking,” it’s responsible thinking, and the right comparisons are not with Chamberlain but with Nixon and Reagan, both of whom chose engagement over ideological rhetoric.

            • “Superpowers don’t abdicate their responsibility when it comes to something like admission to the global thermonuclear club.”
              That’s exactly what the US has done and is doing here.

              Of course it’s magical thinking. There is no Gorbachov leading Iran. Iran is ideologically radical and driven by religious fanatacism. It has violated and cheated in every previous nuclear deal. How is it responsible to transfer 150 billion dollars that you know will be used to destabilize the region and promote terror in exchange for promises you know will be broken.

              Here was the assessemnt of one of Obama’s former nuclear policy advisors, Dennis Ross:

              First, because the Iranians are not required to dismantle their enrichment infrastructure, are allowed to continue at least limited research and development on their five advanced models of centrifuges and will be permitted to build as large an industrial nuclear program as they want after year 15, the deal, at that point, will legitimize the Islamic republic as a threshold nuclear state. The gap between threshold status and weapons capability will necessarily become small, and not difficult for the Iranians to bridge.

              Second, the deal will relieve sanctions once the Iranians have implemented their major nuclear obligations — reducing centrifuges and the stockpile, taking out the core of the Arak reactor and establishing the verification system over the supply chain — and that is likely to take about six months. This means that Iran, aside from being able to sell its oil, will regain access to as much as $150 billion in frozen accounts in the coming year. Even if it uses 90 percent to 95 percent of that to meet domestic needs, it is inconceivable that the Revolutionary Guards won’t receive a payoff that they can use for aggressive purposes with the Shiite militias throughout the region. If one doubts that, take the word of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah who this year asked rhetorically, “If Iran gets back this money, what will it do with it?” He then left little to the imagination by saying: “A rich and strong Iran . . . will be able to stand by its allies and friends, and the peoples of the region, especially the resistance in Palestine, more than in any time in the past.” Small wonder Arab and Israeli leaders are deeply concerned that the nuclear deal will trigger increasing threats against them.

              Third, since the deal is essentially a rollback of sanctions for transparency, it depends heavily on the Iranians allowing access to suspect sites. Will inspectors have access when they need it or only when the Iranians permit it? Will the Iranians, who are speaking of “managed access,” challenge the justification for inspecting military, Revolutionary Guard or scientific facilities? Will every challenge be turned into a negotiation?

              How can you or anyone seriously argue that a deal even allowing such questions to be asked is “responsible”? Honestly, I find it mind boggling. Compared to this, SALT was air-tight. A responsible treaty cannot rest on “maybe it will work.”

      • No downside? Really? Faced with that sort of demand, the very least that any self-respecting person in a position of power or responsibility would do is move the prisoners to more secure and probably more stringent holding facilities, very possibly also injuring or killing one or more of them to raise the stakes. That’s because that sort of demand is tantamount to “you might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb” – if there is not to be any gradation in demands, there is no downside to raising the stakes in response.

        • And then you do what Reagan did in 1986 to Libya after they were suspected of being behind the disco bombing; you launch sorties and BOMB them! Except this guy doesn’t have the stones for that. He needs to be horsewhipped with a barber belt until they finally descend from his abdomen.

          • …in the interests of our national security. If you recall, only one American serviceman died in that discotheque.

          • You think the president of the United States would have a man murdered for asking a rude question if he were able and at the same time want to bomb a nation of 77 million without a casus belli.

            How do you think our allies would react? Eager to back us up in the future? How about China and Russia? Lots of deals for oil to be made and a change to test their anti-aircraft gear against Americans. How many would die in Israel when Hamas starts their retaliation?

            How many would you see die? How tarnished would you see our reputation? With your schoolyard-level attitude that discounts anything but naked force to get your own way are you by any chance planning to vote for Donald Trump?

            • Yes, this is what I believe. He sees us citizens as subjects, and if he had the opportunity to rule here with bsolute power, I have no doubt he would. His personality reveals this. There’s no inconsistency in my statement. Cowards only wield power when they can be certain of no retribunion. As far as the rest of the world, he seem to believe that America is not exceptional, and would be happy to relegate our role on the world stage to that of any other backwater. But that’s not our role. We ARE the world’s policeman, and it’s breadbasket, and in order to lend credibility to this role, we have to project power when it’s called for. That starts with sending the message that you will not persecute our citizens with impunity. As far as Russia and China, I have little doubt that they would handle this sort of situation in similar fashion, if recent history is any indication, and Israel could only benefit from her closest ally no longer being a paper tiger. Donald Trump? Too early to tell. I would certainly vote for him over Clinton or Sanders.

            • I still vividly remember the hostage crisis. Day after day, watching the news, wondering when the other pantywaist was going to deal with these savages in appropriate fashion. Iran needs a good spanking to help cure them of the hostage-taking fetish. I’m not talking about carpet-bombing them. Maybe hire someone eager to meet his 72 virgins to put on a best and give Khamenei the Ramadan hug.

        • Huh? If, as should be true, the US has the power to walk away, linking a minor matter of four individuals to the deal proceeding is risk free. We had hostages in Iran once—got them back, too, once the right threat was made by a credible leader.

    • The problems of four little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. There are much bigger things at stake here. Besides, maybe they’re guilty of the crimes they’ve been jailed for.

      • I appreciate charlesgreen’s take on this (I disagree, but he stated it well), but Greg brings a few things to mind: Obama has already shown he is willing to bargain for hostages in the Bergdahl case; and we severed ties with Iran in an incident involving hostages. If there ever was a scenario in which hostages or political prisoners could be tied to the mere existence of diplomatic relations, it would be this. Obama could have easily and reasonably said that we will never deal with Iran, so long as they hold us hostage. It did not work in 1980 and it sure as hell won’t fly in 2015 (except for the fact that Obama is leading the U.S.)
        -Jut

  5. Surely we all recognised the schoolboy debating trick in “Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content with ……”? It is in the same family as “When did you stop beating your wife?” Garrett had the opportunity to ask a worthwhile question from which we might have learned something. He blew it and has been called out. Of course he ‘knew better’. Garrett’s contribution was an undeserved gift to the President as it looked as if a supposedly professional reporter couldn’t find a probing and relevant question.

    • Not even close! This was not an unfounded accusation. Obama is obviously content with the deal without a provision for releasing the hostages, because he didn’t even TRY to leverage it. I’ll bet the families of these hostages wouldn’t have been as polite.

    • I agree that the question was badly phrased. It’s certainly not a “When did you stop beating your wife?” question though. That’s a question that can’t be answered without self-implication. How hard is it to say, “I’m not satisfied with the fact that Americans have not been freed, but we could not allow the live of four risk the lives of thousands or more.” It’s bullshit, of course, but the question is answerable.

  6. One must not criticize “Our Dear And Glorious Leader” especially if they are in the mainstream media. Obama suddenly realized somebody was playing hardball with him. Oh, what a shock!

  7. Bottom line, as Jack pointed out, it’s long been the case anything is fair game if the person being questioned is a Republican. If they’re a Democrat, toss a softball, allow them to read the talking points of the day and then either toss another softball or close the interview. Never, ever ask a Democrat a serious follow-up question or anything otherwise substantial. This is incontrovertible.

    • you ve got it, in a nutshell
      hasn t it been eye opening living with this Pravda for 7 + years, I never thought I d see something as disgraceful as the MSM in this country
      Garrett better have his taxes & *life* in order, there will be retribution, it s the Chicago way !

      • I think it’s been going on at least since Sam Donaldson. He made his entire career on being a low grade prick, but only to Republicans. Others took note. And I think that era was also the beginning of every journalist being, at heart, a Democrat. It’s just gotten worse and worse over time.

  8. Whether someone thinks that the release of Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian , Saeed Abedini and Robert Levinson should have been tied into the treaty is matter that can be discussed by reasonable people . Again the POTUS is showing that he is not reasonable and his trait for not liking his decisions being questioned by others.

    • When I was listening to the President announce the treaty, he projected confidence and presidential mettle. He even said he welcomed congressional scrutiny of the detail… then he said he would veto ANY attempt to block the treaty. Not capricious attempts. Any attempt…

      “Welcoming” scrutiny, and then promising to ignore ANY feedback is the height of disingenuousness. His mettle got rusty real quick after that.

  9. Well, the news media isn’t supposed to treat the powerful with kid gloves. American journalism is supposed to be, indeed ethically obligated to be, suspicious, probing, objective and adversarial, which described Garrett’s question exactly.

    Since when?

    Where did you get this idea?

    In the Seventies, White House beat reporter Dan Rather was insolent and even insulting to President Richard Nixon in press conferences, and roundly praised for it.

    He was wrong, and those who praised him were wrong.

    It also made him famous, was cited as exemplary “tough” journalism, and made him Walter Cronkite’s successor.

    What Rather did was wrong.

    ABC’s Sam Donaldson was a dim bulb indeed, but he got in Ronald Reagan face during press conferences, and became a media star as a result.

    That was wrong.

    and if the choice is adversarial audacity like Rather’s or the partisan cheer-leading the current news media has adopted for Obama, there really is no choice at all.

    The use of forged memos was an example of adversarial audacity.

    • If asked to choose between obesient deference and overly aggressive adversariness, I’ll take the latter. False dichotomy? Not if the news media default to the former. In a world where journalists don’t distort their role according to favored ideology or place their ink-stained thumbs on the sales, yes, Rather and Donaldon embody offensive styles. In the real world, IF it is evenly applied, it is a welcome relief from unprofessional complacency.

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