Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press
Sunday, June 17, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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As President Barack Obama spoke Friday in the White House Rose Garden about his new immigration policy, a reporter from conservative website the Daily Caller interrupted him by shouting a question. The president stopped and told the reporter he wasn’t done speaking. That didn’t stop the reporter.
Obama returned to his speech and then made a point to directly address the reporter’s question as he spoke. The reporter interrupted again and appeared to try to argue with the president.
The incident became news Friday and opened a debate about whether reporter Neil Munro was out of line when he interrupted the president’s speech.
Munro and the Daily Caller defended his actions. Munro said he was trying to time his question to the end of the president’s speech and said Obama turned his back as he asked his question. But a review of the video shows otherwise — he interrupted him twice before the president finished. And when he first interrupted him, it was clear Obama wasn’t done.
Still, Tucker Carlson, the Daily Caller’s editor in chief, brushed aside criticism. He said he was “proud” of Munro. “A reporter’s job is to ask questions and get answers,” Carlson said in a statement. “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.”
It’s true that a reporter’s job is to ask questions and get the story, but what story was Munro trying to get? Politico.com reported that Munro asked, “Why’d you favor foreigners over Americans?” That’s a loaded question akin to “Have you stopped beating your wife?” It wasn’t designed to get an answer but to provoke an argument over a controversial topic.
Given the weight of the office, presidents have been accorded a measure of respect for generations, no matter their party. It’s fine to question and criticize the president, but this was over the line.
The incident seems to be symptomatic of what has been bubbling up in America — a wholesale disrespect for people of differing viewpoints. Studies and polls have shown that people are widely divided, and the division has become increasingly acrimonious.
Across the country, there is little real discussion or debate. Instead, people seem compelled to act like the shouting heads on cable TV, pointing fingers, name-calling and yelling past one another.
The nation has serious problems, but few seem to be willing to come together to find solutions. Politically, many people seem to be stuck on attack mode, criticizing everyone and anyone who disagrees with them.
For example, in the incident Friday, Carlson tried to dismiss ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer’s criticism of Munro as a “heckler” by saying she never rebuked her former colleague Sam Donaldson for “heckling President Reagan.”
Donaldson irritated politicians of both parties by persistently barking questions, but we don’t remember him ever interrupting a speech. Even if he did, that shouldn’t excuse someone else from doing it.
If this is what civic discussion has become, the nation is in a heap of trouble. It’s reminiscent of grade-school squabbling.
The constant back-biting and vilification of opponents may help some candidates win election, but when it comes to governing, whether in the White House or Congress, it doesn’t do anything to solve problems. Americans want to see solutions instead of the gotchas and obnoxious behavior that have come to mark politics.
The tone of the political conversation needs to change. Whether it’s in a hearing room in Washington or a conversation in a local coffee shop, a little respect would go a long way.