During 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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