Yes, 2009 is ancient history. Avatar was the big movie of the year – Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died, as did John Updike and Andrew Wyeth, and Marilyn Chambers. And on January 20, Barack Obama became president. And everyone knew that was going to be interesting. And by August it was. With Congress in recess, senators and representative headed home to chat with their constituents, in town hall meetings, to find out what they thought of the proposed Affordable Care Act, being debated, quite hotly, in the House and Senate. And every single Democrat found they were being shouted down by hecklers – they couldn’t finish a sentence, or even get a word in edgewise. They were effectively silenced. There would be no discussion. Most of them just gave up. They cancelled the town halls.
This was a righteous popular uprising, or was if you listened to the folks on Fox News. But it turned out it was a highly organized effort by the corporate-funded group FreedomWorks – they spent a lot of money developing detailed guidelines and specific instructions for the shouters. There was a reason the same thing happened, in the same way, with the exact same words being shouted, at each town hall meeting. It was an effective and relatively cheap investment by the insurance companies. You can use people’s unease and nascent anger for corporate ends, to protect your bottom line. Those folks can become your advocates, or tools, without ever knowing they’re being used. But that’s what the Tea Party was all about, really – unless these people were in on the game and truly believed America should be run by the few largest corporations, for those corporations. That might be considered a legitimate political philosophy. But of course no one in the Tea Party, or at those town hall meetings, was explicitly advancing that notion. They would no doubt deny they were what are often called Useful Idiots. They just shouted down the speakers. And no one learned anything. But maybe that was the point.
And in September, Obama asked for a special Joint Session of Congress so he could explain what his healthcare reform legislation was all about – the actual details – without interruption. The House, firmly in the hands of the Republicans, for the first time in history said no – they were busy. They made him change the date. No wait – that happened two years later – but Obama spoke anyway, this time on the day he planned. And just when he was carefully explaining that no illegal immigrants would receive anything in the Affordable Care Act, that congressman from South Carolina, Joe Wilson, shouted out YOU LIE!
That was odd, and Obama wasn’t lying. But Obama accepted Wilson’s brief apology – and Wilson went on to become a bit of a folk hero on the right, discussed on Fox News as that one brave man, and suddenly he was a fundraising star. The money poured in. What he had done wasn’t civil – even perpetually angry John McCain was appalled by Wilson’s outburst – but the House approved a “resolution of disapproval” against Wilson, mostly along party lines, and that was that.
But something has changed, as Alex Pareene reported on June 15:
So. The president was just giving a Rose Garden address announcing his administration’s plan to stop deporting certain immigrants. Neil Munro, a reporter from Tucker Carlson’s “Daily Caller,” decided to start shouting at him, in the middle of the president’s statement. “What about American workers who are unemployed as you import workers,” he shouted, and “Why’d you favor foreigners over Americans?” President Obama looked pretty pissed at him. Munro kept shouting more things as the president actually attempted to answer his question, and then Munro walked away, after telling everyone that he’s an immigrant.
Pareene posts the video of the incident and adds this:
It is in no way surprising that a Daily Caller reporter would act like a tremendous, disrespectful asshole, as “act like an asshole” is essentially the Caller’s mission statement. Presidents shouldn’t be afforded god-like respect by the press or the citizenry, but “don’t interrupt people while they’re talking to angrily shout disagreeable things at them” is just sort of basic politeness, really.
And there’s the guy himself:
Munro is an Irish-born naturalized American citizen who had a very boring gig as a science correspondent for the respected National Journal for ten years until he went to the Caller, where he was finally allowed to unleash his inner asshole. Fun fact: In his role as “science” reporter at the journal, he wrote two major pieces lending credence to anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists! So he’s vile and moronic in a variety of ways. Also various people who have met him socially and people who have worked with him seem to agree that he’s not a particularly pleasant or respectful guy.
Pareene has the links if you want to double-check him, and adds this:
The Caller, obviously, is very proud of Munro for shouting stuff. So now let’s agree to not talk about him anymore, ever, because that is what they want.
But Oliver Knox has more:
The journalist who sparked a ruckus inside the Beltway and on Twitter by interrupting President Barack Obama’s formal remarks on immigration wants the world to know it was all a big misunderstanding. The Daily Caller’s Neil Munro implausibly claims that he never meant to cut off the president and thought he was finished speaking.
“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,” Munro said in a statement on the Daily Caller’s website after his Rose Garden showdown with Obama.
“A reporter’s job is to ask questions and get answers,” said the site’s editor in chief, Tucker Carlson. “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.”
But no one is buying that:
“I was two people over from Neil Munro. No one thought the president was wrapping up. I give that statement a great big Cow Pie Award,” Brianna Keilar of CNN said on Twitter.
“I was standing right behind Munro in the Rose Garden,” said Todd Zwillich, Washington correspondent for The Takeaway from Public Radio International, on Twitter. “Idea he ‘mistimed’ his questions isn’t credible. He purposely interrupted.”
“Munro told other reporters after Obama’s statement, ‘I’m asking questions. Because you people won’t,'” Zwillich tweeted.
The official White House transcript of the event records that after a visibly irritated Obama told Munro “Excuse me, sir. It’s not time for questions, sir,” the journalist replied: “No, you have to take questions.”
“Not while I’m speaking,” the president replied.
And here’s Knox’s assessment:
Munro breached a longstanding – but unwritten – rule among White House correspondents: Don’t interrupt the president’s formal remarks. It is common for White House aides to tell reporters that there will be no questions at a given public event. And it is routine for those reporters to ignore that admonition and call out a question anyway, though always after the president is finished speaking. Presidents typically overlook those queries, smile, wave, and repeat “thank you” before leaving or they let their aides try to sheep-dog the press away. …
Reporters don’t blink when hecklers interrupt the president at campaign events, which tend to be rowdier, or cut him off in a debate setting, when the moderator’s job is often to impose discipline. And press conference exchanges can get testy. Formal events, though, traditionally invite more decorum. But Friday was not the first time that a president has weathered an unsolicited contribution to formal remarks.
Salon’s Joan Walsh is less kind:
I’m not one to revere the imperial presidency, but it’s unbelievable how wingnuts treat this man with such unprecedented and bullying disrespect: from Rep. Joe Wilson screaming “You lie” during Obama’s 2009 speech to a joint session of Congress, to Speaker John Boehner denying him his choice of dates for another congressional address (for the first time in history) last fall, to Donald Trump’s persistent, humiliating demands for the president to show him his papers (with no rebuke from ally Mitt Romney). And for right-wingers who insist Democrats are too quick to cry racism: Really, what else explains this constant, in-your-face (literally) contempt for a president?
Certainly they disrespected President Clinton, too, but never with such in-person abuse. Clinton was impeached after a political witch hunt and treated poorly even by the so-called liberal media, but he was never stalked into the Rose Garden or congressional chambers and heckled, as Obama has been.
So something is going on here:
Conservatism has always been associated with deference to authority, but lately it’s only for authority they respect. The Romney campaign has been glorying in this new form of frat-boy conservatism, first sending campaign supporters to heckle Obama adviser David Axelrod during a press conference, and yesterday sending its bus to circle and disrupt an Obama event, honking its horn. It reminds me of the famous “Brooks Brothers riots” in Miami during December 2000, when supporters of George W. Bush threatened to physically prevent county officials from recounting votes in that heavily Democratic stronghold. Of course, it also harks back to Romney himself in prep school, tackling a gay classmate and cutting off his long blond hair while he cried and asked for help.
And there’s the specific:
It’s no accident that Munro works for bow-tied, sexually anxious bully Tucker Carlson, who famously (but not believably) boasted of beating up a gay man who made a pass at him in a men’s room, and admitted that when he hears Hillary Clinton speak, “I involuntarily cross my legs.” Jon Stewart called him a dick eight years ago, and he’s only gotten worse. This is your modern Republican Party, folks. It only gets worse.
But Oliver Knox sees that too:
President Barack Obama has the “bully pulpit” of the White House, but apparently his campaign is the one feeling like it is being shaken down at recess for its lunch money by Mitt Romney-supporting hecklers.
“We have sent a strong message to our supporters that this campaign should be an open exchange of ideas, not one where we drown out the other side by heckling and crashing events,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said Tuesday.
LaBolt pointed to news reports quoting Romney as refusing to condemn disruptive heckling of Obama campaign events.
But David Axelrod did scold hecklers who shouted down Romney at one of his campaign stops, and kind of forced him to bag it and move on, and the whole Obama team wants that to stop:
“Campaigns are a reflection of their candidate, and Mitt Romney has a different view, endorsing heckling. With all that’s at stake in this election, Americans deserve better,” LaBolt said.
Axelrod’s tweeted rebuke came after Romney backers disrupted an Obama campaign event in Boston, a guerrilla tactic top Romney campaign aides gleefully publicized. And the Romney campaign had a bus circle an Obama event last week before the president arrived and repeatedly honk its horn.
“We have sent a strong message to our supporters that this campaign should be an open exchange of ideas, not one where we drown out the other side by heckling and crashing events,” LaBolt harrumphed in an emailed statement.
“We will win this campaign on the merits – ultimately Americans will side with the candidate who has the best agenda to restore security for the middle class,” the spokesman said.
But what started in the late summer of 2009 cannot be stopped, and Romney is happy with it, as Justin Sink reports:
Mitt Romney won’t ask his supporters to stop heckling President Obama and his surrogates at campaign events.
During a radio interview on Tuesday, the presumptive GOP nominee declined an opportunity to ask his supporters to stop, saying his campaign didn’t “believe in unilateral disarmament.”
Yeah, his folks “drew flack” after his campaign bus circled the site Obama’s big economic address in Cleveland, honking the horn over and over and over. That was the considered response to Obama’s clear and reasoned discussion of how best to assure that the economy recovers, without destroying the middle class and hammering the poor and the elderly in the process. We did try cutting taxes on the rich, deregulating the financial sector and most everything else in sight, and tried to recoup the money to pay for those tax cuts for the rich by ridding ourselves of as much of the social safety net as possible – assuring that states had to lay off teachers and cops and firefighters and stop filling potholes and all the rest. It didn’t work. So we need to be more careful, and more thoughtful, in our mix of debt reduction and necessary investment in stability, and in the future. And he had a whole series of specific suggestions.
The response was that bus, honking its horn:
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith, on Twitter, blasted the move as “juvenile.”
“If campaigns are a reflection of their candidates, what do the Romney campaign’s antics say about Mitt Romney?” Smith tweeted.
But pranks like that are fun, like tackling a gay classmate and cutting off his long blond hair while he cried and asked for help, or those town hall meetings back in 2009 – and does America really want a careful and responsible grown-up as president? What fun is that?
But Justin Sink also reports this:
The back-and-forth prompted Fox News Radio host Brian Kilmeade on Tuesday to ask Romney if he would urge his supporters to stop heckling the Obama campaign.
“I can assure you we don’t believe in unilateral disarmament,” Romney said with a laugh.
“I guess that’s a ‘no,’ ” Kilmeade responded, also laughing.
And then Romney went on to say something like if the other guys would stop acting like juvenile assholes maybe his folks might let up, or might not. But you know if the other guy is being a jerk you have no choice but to be a bigger jerk.
And see Kaili Joy Gray:
Right. It would be “a nice thing” if the Obama campaign did what it has already done by telling supporters to not behave like, well, Romney supporters. So your move, Mitt.
But even the folks at Fox News may be getting queasy on that count:
Fox News anchors Shep Smith and Chris Wallace hammered Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro for his interruption of President Obama during an immigration address on Friday. …
“This was weird,” Smith said to Wallace.
“I think it’s outrageous,” Wallace said. “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.”
“I’m hoping maybe Tucker [Carlson, the Daily Caller’s editor] didn’t see it, didn’t know the context, because Tucker knows better,” Smith said. “He does. He knows better.”
No he doesn’t. Carlson still maintains he is very, very, very proud of Neil Munro. There’s a reason Jon Stewart called him a dick eight years ago. Smith and Wallace aren’t quite there yet – but they’re getting there.
And then there’s Obama. Everyone seems to forget what a masterful politician he is – not only brilliantly eloquent when that’s called for, but damned sneaky. The one-term junior senator from Illinois defeated the juggernaut that was the Clinton machine in the Democratic primaries – by stepping back at critical times and letting Bill Clinton say some incredibly foolish things, as he is wont to do if you wait long enough, and letting Hillary Clinton worry that she wasn’t seen as tough enough until she did the same. The Clintons controlled the Democratic Party, and then, suddenly, they didn’t. And then Obama did the same to John McCain and Sarah Palin – he set himself up as reasonable and calm, and thoughtful – the adult – and let them decide that they, of course, had to be the exact opposite, to give the American people a choice. In each case he used their ambition and energy against them – he was patient and allowed them to eventually flail about, in full public view. Obama was at the calm center. And it worked. Somehow he boxed them into impossible positions, where they looked somewhat foolish, seemingly by their own choice. And he could smile, enigmatically. He was the grown-up. They weren’t. And he just did that to Neil Munro.
And now Romney must be the total anti-Obama, but if he wants to go there he has to align himself with a runaway right-wing Congress, with its record-low approval rating and the scorn of the nation, or lose their support. You want their support. Fine – knock yourself out – and take on all the baggage. And align yourself with the Tea Party, seemingly shilling for the big corporations without realizing it. And refuse to take a stance on the children of illegal immigrants, who know no other country but this one – sure, align yourself with angry old white men, playing golf in funny pants at the exclusive country club. It’s your choice. And now it seems Mitt Romney has to align himself with the sneering juvenile hecklers too, and all their baggage. Damn – it hardly seems fair.
But it started with those town hall meetings long ago. Choose unthinking adolescent petulance and you will be considered… well, you’ll be considered a juvenile jerk. But that may be in vogue now.