Monday, June 18, 2012 at 7:37 AM
Perhaps I should have titled this commentary Reporter Heckles Obama: Republicans Taking Disrespect for the Obama Presidency to New Lows. For even though every president has been subjected to some measure of contempt in the rough-and-tumble of partisan politics, no president has been subjected to the kind of contempt Republicans and their media enablers have shown President Obama to his face.
Most impudent was the way a Republican congressman interrupted Obama during his address to a joint session of Congress in 2009 by shouting “You lie!” at him. A close second, however, was the way the Republican governor of Arizona greeted him on a visit to that state in January this year by giving him a finger-pointing tongue lashing (for his uppity opposition to her draconian and discriminatory immigration policy) right on the tarmac for all the world to see.
Even more troubling, though, has been the dog-whistling (i.e., racist) showing of contempt by a thousand little slights.
Most dastardly was the way far-right Republicans peddled (and continue to peddle) the demonstrably false assertion that Obama is an illegitimate president because he was not born in the United States. A close second, however, was the way they also peddled (and continue to peddle) the demonstrably false assertion that he is a Muslim.
Well, the latest of these little slights came on Friday when a reporter interrupted Obama while he was making a statement to the White House press corps (coincidentally on immigration policy) – not just by shouting an asinine question at him, but by then refusing to shut up when the president begged him to show a little respect.
Their truly shocking exchange unfolded in relevant parts as follows:
Reporter: Why’d you favor foreigners over Americans?
President Obama: Excuse me, sir. It’s not time for questions, Sir.
Reporter: No, you have to take questions.
President Obama: Not while I’m speaking … and the next time I’d prefer you let me finish my statement before you ask that question.
(Washington Time, June 15, 2012)
Frankly, what has been most disheartening about the unprecedented showing of contempt towards Obama is the deafening silence among so many erstwhile respectable Republican politicians, suggesting tacit approval, if not encouragement, of it. Interestingly enough, the notable exception has been the Republican Obama defeated for the presidency in 2008, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who has publicly denounced a number of these contemptuous slights.
At any rate, even though that deafening silence persists in this case, it is noteworthy that a number of erstwhile Republican media enablers have broken ranks.
Here, for example, is what no less a person than Chris Wallace of FOX News, that presumed media arm of the Republican Party, had to say:
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.
I think it’s outrageous… 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 on a press pass and my guess is he won’t be.
(The Huffington Post, June 16, 2012)
The reason Wallace referenced Sam Donaldson, of course, is that nobody was more aggressive in questioning presidents than Donaldson. But despite ostensibly carrying water for ABC News, one of the presumed media arms of the Democratic Party, nobody could accuse Donaldson of ever coming close to showing Reagan any disrespect.
What this man did yesterday is something new, to me wrong and unusual. I think it is probably the result of the growing incivility of the times, the competition among reporters and news organizations to be noticed not only for the work product but for the theatrics of the gathering … and there is one more factor, let’s face it: Many on the political right believe this president ought not to be there – they oppose him not for his policies and political view but for who he is, an African American! These people and perhaps even certain news organizations (certainly the right wing talkers like Limbaugh) encourage disrespect for this president.
(Huffington Post, June 16, 2012)
Hear, hear Sam.
In fact, when I read Donaldson’s damning and unassailable rebuke I wasn’t just heartened but flattered. Not least because I’ve been calling out right-wing nuts in similar fashion from day one of Obama’s presidency.
Here, for example, is what I wrote in Coarsening Trend of Political Debate in America, The iPINIONS Journal, September 14, 2009:
In an interview on 60 Minutes last night, President Obama lamented the coarsening of political debate and expressed forlorn hope that he could ‘bring civility back to Washington.’
With all due respect Mr. President, no you can’t. And nothing demonstrates this quite like the way a heretofore obscure Republican Congressman is now being heralded as a latter-day Tom Paine because he had the partisan gall to yell ‘You lie’ at Obama during his speech before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday…
The nature of politics is such that I fear the reward he’s getting for his uncivil disobedience will only encourage others to do the same.
And more recently here in Washington’s Food Fight Over Debt Ceiling, The iPINIONS Journal, July 25, 2011:
[I]t seems clear that what troubles many Republicans is not the national debt, but the fact that Obama is the first black president of the United States. None of them would admit this of course… Their brazen objective is to undermine his authority and delegitimize his presidency…
So if you think it’s just a coincidence that Washington under this (first black) president is the most polarized it has been since the Civil War, you’re whistling Dixie.
Beyond this, conspicuously missing from the rebuke both Wallace and Donaldson offered is any recognition of the media’s complicity in this coarsening of political debate. Because, as I indicated back in 2009, the only reason these yahoos continue to show such unbridled and unprecedented contempt towards this president is that they know the media will ignore everything else, no matter how serious, to cover their calculated antics. (This, in part, is why we’ve regressed from reporter Walter Cronkite being more popular than any movie star to dingbat Snooki being more popular than any reporter….)
And so it was in this case that the media headlines coming out of Friday’s press briefing had more to do with this right-wing reporter’s interruption than with Obama’s statement on his new immigration policy. (That policy pertains to his order for Homeland Security to stop deporting underage illegal immigrants who were brought into the country by their parents.)
Therefore, I urge those rebuking this reporter to join me in rebuking the media as well for giving him the unwarranted publicity he clearly coveted. Apropos of which, it is no accident that I have not even mentioned his name, let alone published his picture.