On June 15, President Obama delivered a statement in the Rose Garden on the Department of Homeland Security's new policy halting deportations of certain young undocumented immigrants and granting them work permits, subject to various conditions. In the middle of Obama's statement, Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro delivered his own statement, interrupting the president as he shouted nonsensical questions about the administration “employ[ing] foreigners.”
It was a breach of decorum that threatened to derail coverage of an important policy announcement, and was met with near-universal condemnation. The Daily Caller, however, is standing by their man with a variety of explanations and excuses, all of them dreadful.
First out of the gate (I think) was Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle, who defended “a reporter” -- later confirmed to be his colleague -- for interrupting Obama because OMG the president just wouldn't shut up!
Obama just bashed a reporter for asking him a question while he's rambling on.
-- Matthew Boyle (@mboyle1) June 15, 2012
The president was “rambling on,” said Boyle. By my stopwatch, the president had been speaking for just over four and a half minutes before Munro interjected, well within the attention spans of most toddlers and a few gifted dogs. And he was laying out a new federal policy that will affect close to 1 million people living in the United States, so perhaps we can spot him a few minutes.
Timing Is Everything
Following the incident, the Daily Caller released three separate statements: one from Munro himself, one from Tucker Carlson, and one from publisher Neil Patel. Munro's statement cast the whole affair as one big foul-up in which he simply mistimed his question:
I always go to the White House prepared with questions for our president. I timed the question believing the president was closing his remarks, because naturally I have no intention of interrupting the President of the United States.
Patel's statement gave a similar impression:
Neil Munro is a veteran Washington reporter who today tried his best to time his question to be first as the President was wrapping up his remarks. He in no way meant to heckle the President of the United States.
In a video “explaining” his exchange with the president, Munro said he was flummoxed by Obama's smooth-as-silk speech patterns: “Timing these things is a little awkward. [Obama] speaks very well, very smoothly, very nice delivery. It's hard to know when he's about to end. I thought he was going to end today, I asked my question too early, he rebuked me. Fair enough.”
This is obviously untrue. The president was in mid-sentence when Munro started shouting. Reporters standing near Munro said no one believed Obama was wrapping things up when Munro interrupted and the idea that he mistimed his queries just “isn't credible.” Moreover, if Munro had “no intention of interrupting the president,” why did he continue interrupting the president after the president made clear he was interrupting? Why did he angrily stalk off and accuse other reporters of not doing their jobs?
Sandwiched in between Munro's and Patel's statements on the incident was that of Tucker Carlson, who eschewed the transparently false poor-timing excuse for the infinitely more hilarious claim that Neil Munro was acting in the grand journalistic tradition:
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.
Where to begin... Let's start with Carlson comparing Munro to Sam Donaldson. That comparison is utter garbage, according to Sam Donaldson: “I never interrupted any president while he was making a formal presentation of any sort. You don't do that, do you?” That sentiment was echoed by Fox News' Chris Wallace: “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.”
Moving on, Carlson says “a reporter's job is to ask questions and get answers.” True enough! A reporter's job is also to record the answers those questions and write about them later on. Munro, however, showed up to the White House that day seemingly bereft of a tape recorder, notepad, smartphone, or any other device that would indicate that he had any interest in actually reporting what was said that day. Instead he shouted his questions with his hands buried in his pockets.
“A good reporter gets the story. We're proud of Neil Munro,” writes Carlson. Okay... what story did he get? The article he wrote afterwards contained not a single quote from the president (or anyone, for that matter), and no discussion of the new immigration policy -- as you would expect from someone who took no notes and no audio recordings. Rather, the story was all about how Obama's slippery style was preventing “assertive reporters” from asking “awkward questions.”
Munro didn't “get the story,” he made himself the story. And Tucker Carlson is proud of that because he is a terrible journalist.
On CNN's Reliable Sources this weekend, the Daily Caller's Matt Lewis was asked by Howard Kurtz if he defended Munro's behavior, and Lewis invoked Munro's First Amendment rights.
“Where in the Constitution does it say you can't ask questions?” Lewis asked a clearly exasperated Kurtz. This is a Constitutional argument borrowed from Randy Marsh, the South Park character who gets into drunken half-clothed brawls at his son's little league games and protests his ensuing arrests by screaming: “I thought this was America! Is this America?”
To answer Lewis' question, it doesn't say that anywhere in the Constitution, thankfully, but that's irrelevant because no one is questioning Munro's right to free speech. Nor is this really an issue of “deference to authority.” It's more about someone claiming to act as a journalist in the public interest but not behaving as such, showing up at a public event to shout terrible questions with no intention of recording the answers. Of course he had the right to do that, but that doesn't make him right.