What was wrong with a White House reporter’s question?

Hard as it is to believe now, it was quite scandalous back in the ’70s when White House correspondent Dan Rather and President Richard Nixon butted heads over a question at a news conference.

Rather was a thorn in the side of Nixon but he knew how to get presidents to answer questions.

He unloaded on Nixon at a National Association of Broadcasters convention in Houston.

Rather: Mr. President, I wonder if you could share with us your thoughts, tell us what goes through you mind when you hear people, people who love this country and people who believe in you, say reluctantly that perhaps you should resign or be impeached?

Nixon: “Well, I am glad we don’t take the vote of this room, let me say.”

At the time his retort and question were considered an insult to a sitting president.

We’ve changed a lot since then and it’s been a long time since a controversy surrounded a question to a president.

Major Garrett, the current holder of Rather’s old gig, stirred the pot yesterday when he framed his question by basing it on the assumption that President Obama was “content” with leaving imprisoned Americans in Iraq Iran.

Garrett could easily have changed the wording of the question to “are you content…” rather than “why are you content…”

Today, he told Charlie Rose he doesn’t regret the question.

“I asked the question I asked, and I can’t take it back. What I wanted to drive at, aggressively, was why in a context where the president conceded many times in that press conference that choices had to be made, and priorities had to be established, these four Americans were not prioritized in the context of the Iran deal. I believe that’s an important question on behalf of these four families.”

It is, indeed. Which is why he should’ve asked that question.

  • Gary F

    Nothing was wrong with that question. Nothing. Could he have asked it better, possibly. President Obama has so rarely been asked a tough question by the White House media that when it happens, it becomes an issue.

    Just think how the White House media will react to a Walker, Rubio, Perry, or Bush Presidency. Like night and day.

    • BJ

      > President Obama has so rarely been asked a tough question by the White House media that when it happens, it becomes an issue.

      Really? Have you a list of all the questions he has been asked and rated them tough to easy?

      IF this hadn’t happened would you know any of the questions that were asked at this event.

    • Asking the question as I framed it isn’t any less tough a question. But building a foundation of the question on the fact Obama is content with Americans being held in prison pushes the entire question past a debatable point. That’s the flaw in the question.

      I agree with you that the White House press corps is too often a lap dog for sitting presidents — mostly by not challenging answers (which also would’ve been heresy back in Rather’s day) — but failing to ask a tough question isn’t really the issue with this one.

      Now, I get what Garrett is doing. He’s trying to knock a president off his game by getting him flustered. But there are better ways to do that than to “advance” a debatable point past the point of debate.

      Also, I noticed CBS News deleted the video it had posted of the question being asked. So I assume they’re not all that proud of it themselves.

    • Postal Customer

      “Just think how the White House media will react to a Walker, Rubio, Perry, or Bush Presidency”

      Indeed, imagine that fantasy. Ahh, daydreams.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      Considering how often the press corps challenged this President’s immediate predecessor I don’t think party matters.

    • chris

      Ha. The reporter can ask the question, but the President has every right to argue with the ridiculously stupid assumption that he is content with imprisonment of Americans in Iran. And it’s not really an “issue”. Just something out of the ordinary to generate some hits. But it is a sharp contract to the previous administration, which planted right wing “reporter” like Jeff Gannon to ask fawning questions.

  • MrE85

    Obama’s response wasn’t as satisfying as “…in this building when the President stands, nobody sits,” but he was right to call out Garrett for that question.

  • Tyler

    If you’re gonna stir the sh*tpot, you should have to lick the spoon.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    Just a quick note, the paragraph before the clip mentions “imprisoned Americans in Iraq” shouldn’t that be Iran? Otherwise the question doesn’t make sense in the context of the press conference.

  • socal90

    YES or NO Mr President! Have you stopped beating your wife?

  • kevins

    The topic was relevant, but the question was worded, on purpose, to be provocative and unfair. In that, the reporter was not only disrespectful, but frankly quite rude.

  • PaulJ

    That’d be the last time smart guy got a chance to play word games in one of my conferences.

  • it wasn’t a question, it was a political statement crafted to ignite a reaction and he got it. It is not a tough question it’s just a question, like Why was the release of the Americans not tied to the deal. He could have just asked it that way. I’m listening to the interview and he used the term why were the individuals were not accounted for in the negotiation. He’s a sandbagger.

  • tboom

    Judging from the comment section, I must be way off base on this one. I’ll grant that the assumption that Obama “is content” is a pretty big leap, but looking at the record I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable in the context of the question. It’s certainly something Obama can (and did) refute in his answer.

    In his response to Charlie, Major articulated an important and complex set of issues not easy ask in a single question. I don’t know how much opportunity for follow-up Major has, but could some of the “rudeness” built into the question be designed to head off an answer that merely avoids or discounts the importance of the question?

    I disagree with Bob and others, I don’t believe their suggested rephrasings are equally tough questions. Asked those ways, Obama can go straight to a talking point about not rewarding hostage takers, thus avoiding addressing the complexities of the issue. I’m not a journalist and wouldn’t know “well worded” from “poorly crafted”. I also don’t watch raw footage of White House Press conferences so don’t know how questions are normally asked or how much opportunity there is for follow-up. However as a news media consumer I’ve become tired listening to questions that appear to be designed so the subject can tee-off on “talking points”.

    Frankly I’m not upset if our elected officials occasionally feel uncomfortable when being asked to explain themselves. The decision the President made with respect to these Americans, and as related to the Iranian negations, should have been an “uncomfortable” decision, lives are at stake as is true with many decisions the POTUS makes. Those life and death decisions shouldn’t always be easy to make or explain, is it rude to ask in a way that tries to get an explanation anyway?

  • BReynolds33

    I hope the answer to the second question was, “If I need to remind you, Major, the Chairman works for me.”

  • Martha Lou

    Obama was upset for being asked why he has done NOTHING for years to get our Americans back from terrorist funding Iran? OMG_ amazing. He is so thin skinned as all narcissists are..its their nature and any first year psychiatry resident can identify Obama’s narcissism personality disorder within a few speeches he has given over the years.
    Now, in next week, will he be upset when asked WHY he is demanding our Military recruiters to NOT wear their uniforms? We now have to hide from radical jihad Islamists?? Appalling! Unheard of in America. He arms Iran and wants Americans unarmed.
    The rest of the world believes Obama is inept. Even Doctor Ben Carson says a 2nd grader could negotiate better than Obama does with Iran.
    Yes, a nutless ideolog who can’t answer questions about his failed Iran policies. Under his watch, ISIS is now a state, they own most of Iraq, they have killed over 243,000 innocents, threw gays off bridges, raped thousands of women, exploded a baby for demonstration on bomb making and what has Obama done? Zero.
    yeah_ a nutless wonder is being too kind. I am so ashamed we elected this person..he lowers the White House flag for Mandella passing , a man who worked with and really loved Castro and Obama can’t have the flag lowered to half mast for our four Marines in TN? Is that because his only service time was with a bong in HA? My grandmother has more balls than Obama. Now the military polled shows 99% instead of 81% of all military personnel will never ever vote progressive. They see what our media won’t speak out of…Progressive failed leaders once more.
    Bah_