Thursday, Apr 24, 2014
Columns

When questioning is really heckling

Florida Voices
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:20 PM

In a Rose Garden speech last week, President Obama announced the reversal of a longstanding American policy. People who entered the United States illegally when they were younger than 16, who've lived in the country for more than five years and are under 30, will no longer be deported.

Rather, they'll be granted work permits and, presumably, a way to citizenship, formalizing what they already do: attend college, hold jobs, pay taxes, and keep this country vibrant and true to its heritage.

The decision is worth debating, if there was room for that debate. It's not just Congress that's refused to engage it. Obama's announcement was itself hijacked by a reporter who, five minutes through Obama's nine-minute speech, heckled the president.

The reporter is Neil Munro, who works for the Daily Caller, a D.C.-based online news-and-commentary website created by Tucker Carlson, the columnist and former co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," where interruptions were part of the show's gimmickry.

The Rose Garden announcement was an Obama speech, not a press conference. When presidents deliver speeches — or governors or county commissioners — interruptions are not acceptable. Heckling even less so.

Munro was not a reporter at that moment. He was a heckler, even though his question — "Mr. President, why do you favor foreign workers over Americans?" — while clearly baiting, was legitimate. As is ridiculing, lampooning, lambasting or even calling the president a liar, but in the proper context. Shouting it out during a State of the Union address, as Joe Wilson, the degraded South Carolina congressman, did three years ago, is adding insult to grandstanding. The attack on the president is of less consequence than the attack on the office, on the moment, on the process.

So it was with Munro. He was grandstanding, effectively derailing the moment. He succeeded.

Carlson's defense added to the ploy. He knows the difference between heckling and asking questions. He's been to innumerable speeches and news conferences. He also knows the buttons to push to frame the debate his way: "He was doing what reporters are supposed to do — get their questions answered," Carlson told Politico. "Presidents come out and they expect the press to act as stenographers — dutifully take down their every word and they retreat back into the White House."

Carlson is right. But he's also deceptive. He's slurring journalism by equating means and ends, by erasing the difference between method and propriety.

No one is asking his reporter not to ask the tough questions. But that's what one-on-one interviews are for, or even news conferences. Munro isn't for that sort of grub. So he goes for a rhetorical Molotov cocktail.


Pierre Tristam is editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a nonprofit news service based in Palm Coast.
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