Conservatives have defended the actions of Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro by claiming that his shouted questions to President Obama yesterday are no different than what veteran ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson used to do when he covered the Reagan White House. On Friday, Munro repeatedly interrupted Obama during his announcement of an immigration policy change that will potentially exempt hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to legally seek work in the United States. But Donaldson rejected that comparison.
As the Washington Post reported, Donaldson "didn't approve" of the confrontation:
"I never interrupted any president while he was making a formal presentation of any sort. You don't do that, do you?" said Donaldson, who titled his 1987 memoir "Hold On, Mr. President!"
Not that Donaldson ever let them slip away quietly. But he would wait until a president had finished his remarks, he said. And if the chief executive turned away without answering questions, Donaldson would fire away.
Donaldson was also famous for shouting questions as the president walked to and from his helicopter.
Indeed, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, who covered the White House alongside Donaldson as a reporter for NBC, agreed that what Munro did was "outrageous."
Wallace stated on Fox News' Studio B:
WALLACE: I covered Ronald Reagan for six years with Sam Donaldson. We used to scream our lungs out asking questions, but we always waited until the president had -- any president had finished speaking. The idea that you would interrupt the president in the middle of prepared remarks and shout a question -- I don't think the guy should be allowed back in the White House, you know, on a press pass.
Later, during an interview with Washington, D.C.-based radio news station WTOP, Wallace added that Munro "was way over the line":
WALLACE: The role of the press is to ask questions of the president, to get answers, but you don't interrupt the president in the middle of a statement. I covered the White House, Ronald Reagan for six years -- I was there with Sam Donaldson. Nobody would say that either of us lacked aggressiveness when it came to questioning the president, but we didn't interrupt while the president was still talking. This was way over the line.
And yet the comparison to Donaldson was trotted out by conservatives as justification for Munro's actions.
In a statement posted on the Daily Caller's website, editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson wrote:
"I don't remember Diane Sawyer scolding her colleague Sam Donaldson for heckling President Reagan. And she shouldn't have. A reporter's job is to ask questions and get answers. Our job is to find out what the federal government is up to. Politicians often don't want to tell us. A good reporter gets the story. We're proud of Neil Munro."
In a post on his Twitter feed, conservative pundit and CNN contributor Erick Erickson asked: "Also, anyone remember Sam Donaldson shouting questions at President Reagan?"
In a reply to Erickson on Twitter, conservative writer John Podhoretz wrote: "Not while he was delivering remarks. Never."
Even Munro, in his write-up of Obama's announcement, which detailed his confrontation with the president, claimed: "In previous administrations, some reporters used the tactic very effectively. ABC's Sam Donaldson, for example, was famous for his shouted questions to President George H.W. Bush."
"Mr. Obama had only been speaking for about five minutes when Mr. Munro first shouted. He continued speaking for another five minutes afterward," reported the New York Times.
Munro was harshly criticized for his heckling by current and former White House Correspondents' Association presidents, with former president Ed Chen saying that the action "betrays a shocking disrespect for the office." Chen added: "He owes the president a written apology."
Deputy press secretary to former President Bush Tony Fratto wrote on Twitter: "Reporters don't interrupt presidential statements. Period. @NeilMunroDC should be banned from WH." He added: "Reporters can/do/should shout questions AFTER a statement or presser -- that's cool. Interrupting is anarchy & rude."
On his show Friday night, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly also expressed outrage, saying:
O'REILLY: Mr. Munro is absolutely wrong in interfering with the president's statement. As Talking Points always says, you must respect the office of the presidency, even if you don't like the person in it. Mr. Obama was correct in calling Munro out.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs also agreed that Munro's heckling was inappropriate.