Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It appears now that the genteel gentry of the Beltway media are shocked when a journalist dares to ask an unfawning question of Our President


"If we were ever to agree to 'behave,' we'd be walking away from our First Amendment role--and then we really would be the shills we're so often accused of being."
--CBS News correspondent Bill Plante, after taking heat for daring to ask Chimpy the Prez, at yesterday's White House lovefest for the vamoosing Karl Rove: "If he's so smart, how come you lost Congress?"

Tipped by one of his readers, Carpetbagger Report's Steve Benen picked up on this little incident, including veteran correspondent Bill Plante's response (as reported on CBS News's PublicEye blog):

'If he's so smart, how come you lost Congress?'

When the president and Karl Rove delivered brief statements at the White House yesterday, reporters were not allowed to ask questions. One spoke up anyway.

As Karl Rove embraced President Bush today following an emotional farewell announcement on the South Lawn, the solemnity of the moment was shattered by Bill Plante of CBS, who bellowed to Bush: "If he's so smart, how come you lost Congress?”

Now, I consider myself a fairly polite guy, and if the president had just made a statement regarding something truly solemn--about, for example, war casualties--I can understand reporters showing some restraint. Under truly somber circumstances, the press corps almost certainly shouldn't shout cheeky questions.

But Karl Rove is a controversial, nearly-indicted, currently-subpoenaed political advisor. His departure is not "solemn.” The White House seems to have trained much of the press corps not to disrupt the president's preferred media dynamic--reporters are to spoken to, not heard from--but why should they play along? What's so awful about Plante trying to get a response from officials after public remarks at the White House?

Reader D.K. alerted me to this CBS News piece today, in which Plante talked about why he asked the question--and the kind of response he got.

As the President and Karl Rove walked away from the lectern after their emotional announcement of Rove's resignation, I yelled a question: "If he's so smart, why did you lose Congress?”

The President, as usual, didn't answer. That's OK – he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to. But judging by some of the reaction, you'd think I had been shouting obscenities in church!

"Unprofessional;” "Inappropriate;” "Unbecoming;” "Doesn't show much class;” "you are a total idiot;” "Shill for the liberal Democrats.”

Apparently it's now considered disrespectful for a reporter to ask the president confrontational questions at the White House.

This is silly. I like good manners as much as the next guy, and I don't want to see our public discourse coarsened, but this notion that the White House press corps has to treat Bush and Rove with kid gloves, and with excessive deference, is misguided.

Plante explained and defended his conduct.

There was no time to frame that question because the event this morning was a statement, not a news conference. So I asked a more direct one. I thought it unlikely that they would answer, but it's always worth a try.

Yes, it is. If they don't answer, they don't answer. A journalist ought to try, right?

Plante, a veteran reporter, does not appear to be tarnished by partisanship. Twenty years ago, he shouted a question at Reagan as he left the Rose Garden after the annual Teacher of the Year ceremony. Ten years ago, he shouted a question at Clinton after an event (which, in turn, led a red-faced president to respond angrily).

The point is that reporters are not [at the White House] as guests. We're here to ask questions.

Why? Because if we were ever to agree to "behave,” we'd be walking away from our First Amendment role--and then we really would be the shills we're so often accused of being.

Sounds right to me.

Well said, Steve. I couldn't agree more.

The only qualification I might add is that come January 21, 2009, assuming a Democrat is elected to replace Chimpy the Prez (as if any human could), I think we may be startled to see how quickly the genteel gentry of the Beltway press establishment lose even the teensiest grain of respect for either the president or the office of the presidency, and how routinely not only questions but routinely lie-based accusations are hurled at him/her anytime "reporters" (for want of a better word) have access to the poor sod.

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At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rove is "Fair Game" by his own definition.

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the first post is always covered with an earlier line from the post.

At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cando, today I am enjoying hiding out behind the first post, but you can reduce it by reducing the font size, usually a control key and the minus sign...

DWT knows about this; Howie has bigger fonts to fry and I am grateful for that >:->

At 3:30 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

In space, no one can hear you scream.

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 6:09 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Yes, this is out fault, because of the verbosity of our post heads, for which the pre-formatted software makes approximately zero allowance. (Of course it's another part of the software that ALLOWS us to write heads of this length. But I'm pretty sure those different parts of the software package have never been introduced to one another.) And I freely own that I'm even worse in this regard than Howie.

One thing you can do--as I do when I really want to SEE the start of the first comment--is to click through the verbose head to the "Show Original Post" link. Once the post is displayed, you can scroll down and see the liberated comment.

Sorry about that folks, but between Howie and me there isn't a Web designer in the bunch.


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