In the immediate aftermath of Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro’s shouted interruptions of President Obama’s Rose Garden speech announcing an immigration policy that will potentially exempt hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to legally seek work in the United States, conservatives jumped to the defense of Munro. Their claim is that Munro’s actions were no different from what retired ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson used to do when covering the Reagan White House.
Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Caller, Tucker Carlson, posted the following statement on the website:
“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.”
Mr. Donaldson disagrees with that assessment.
Mr. Donaldson was well-known for asking hard questions of a president, but he would wait until a president had finished his remarks. If his questions remained unanswered, Donaldson had no problem firing away.
According to a report in the Washington Post, Mr. Donaldson was in an airport lounge when he saw the confrontation on TV. He voiced his disapproval of Mr. Munro’s actions and said, “I never interrupted any president while he was making a formal presentation of any sort. You don’t do that, do you?”
Munro was all over the place in his response to the confrontation, first claiming, “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.” He then tried to explain away the incident as a misunderstanding and stated that he asked Obama “a question as his speech appeared to be ending.” Reporters who were present disputed his description of what happened.
In light of the fact that the entire episode was on tape and it was abundantly clear that Mr. Munro had rudely interrupted the Commander-in-Chief, several well-known conservatives spoke out.
When Erick Erickson, a conservative pundit, Tweeted, “Also anyone remember Sam Donaldson shouting questions at President Reagan?” Conservative writer, John Podhoretz, tweeted back: “Not while he was delivering remarks. Never.”
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, who covered the White House with Donaldson as an NBC reporter stated on Fox News’ Studio B:
“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—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, in an interview on D.C. based radio news station WTOP, Wallace added:
“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.”
Bill O’Reilly, on his show on Friday night, decried Munro’s actions, saying:
“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.”
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.”
Even Fox Business host Lou Dobbs agreed that Munro’s heckling of the president was inappropriate.
As a commentator, it comes as no surprise to me that the President of the United States was heckled during a Rose Garden speech. The things that have been done to and said about this president stand in stark contrast to the treatment afforded any of his predecessors. This is a president who was interrupted during a State of the Union Address by Rep. Joe “You lie!” Wilson (R-S.C.), was harshly admonished by a finger waving Jan Brewer, Governor of Arizona, depicted as a pimp and Michele as his ho in a widely circulated email and recently called a monkey by a hate mongering right-wing radio host. He has been accused of everything and anything, from not being an American citizen, to being a communist, a fascist, a terrorist (remember the “terrorist” fist bump?), to being (and this is the most insane of them all) a racist, to name only a few of the untruths and epithets thrown at him.
President Obama’s crime is clear. He is a black man in the White House and there are those who simply cannot stand it. They refuse to accept the mantle of racism but racism it is, pure and simple.
It is heartening to see that so many on the right came out in condemnation of Munro’s actions but, to be honest, I take their comments with a grain of salt. There was no way around what was clearly presented on tape. The politically smart thing to do would be to distance oneself from such an egregious act of rudeness. But you can be certain that tomorrow the veiled racial attacks, and the lies and distortions will once again be issuing from the mouths of those who wish to appear so reasonable today.
Ann Werner is a blogger and the author of two thrillers and two works of non-fiction. You can view her work at ARK Stories.