The ‘sassing of the president’ remembered

Journalists and presidents have sparred for far longer than many of us have been alive, but for a few old-timers who still remember the Nixon administration, it was hard not to take a trip down memory lane today to see how the things have changed in the category of “shocking” at presidential news conferences.

Jim Acosta, the CNN reporter, is the kind of foil every president has but their ongoing battle reached a new level at today’s news conference.

Fun stuff.

Let’s take that stroll down memory lane.

The year was 1974, the height of the Watergate scandal — and Dan Rather of CBS News, then the White House correspondent, caused jaws to drop when he had the temerity to react this way to a presidential tweak.

It occurred during a live broadcast in Houston.

“Are you running for something?” the president asked Rather after he’d gotten some applause.

“No sir, Mr. President. Are you?” Rather responded.

NBC News president Reuven Frank said Rather “smart-assed” Nixon and there was a national debate over whether the media had crossed the line.

The next day, a young college student who one day go on to be an average observer of news, sat in class when a journalism professor characterized the significance of the moment by comparing journalists to doberman pinschers.

“Once they bite you, they won’t think twice about biting you again,” he said. “You have to put them down.”

  • The Resistance

    When the president calls the PBS News Hour racist and CNN the enemy of the people, I fear we are going to see a lot more pipe bombs -and worse- in the next two years.

    There is a lot of fuel being poured on tinder dry kindling. It can’t end well.

    • Maybe Pelosi’s first act should be to extend Secret Service protection to White House correspondents.

      • The Resistance

        This is already happening, it’s just not being paid for by taxpayers.
        April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks indicated in an interview that she has hired her own personal bodyguard. Networks are providing security detail for their White House correspondents.

        While I sometimes bristle at comparisons of Trump to Nazis, I think it’s not hyperbolic to remind us that America has flirted with demagogues denigrating the free press before. This unedited documentary footage of Fritz Kuhn at Madison Square Garden talking about fake news in the 1930s-before Pearl Harbor and our entry into the war- is chilling.

        No matter what your views on the relationship between the current president and the press, this 6 minute documentary is worth a view.

        • We’ve added security guards at the World Headquarters.

      • Mike

        The Democrats’ first mistake would be electing Pelosi as Speaker once again. How about giving a fresh face a try?

        • Speaker of the House isn’t an internship. Who do you recommend?

          I’ve seen tim Ryan’s name in the news. but in the year of the woman, it’d be a bad idea for Democrats to replace a woman with another white guy.

          • Mike

            I have no idea; that’s for the party to decide. But she’s immensely unpopular and a lightning rod for criticism. Why pick her (again) out of 200+ reps?

            Moreover, her selection would sure send a message that the party hasn’t learned anything from its collapse across the country over the past decade.


          • I don’t know. They just took back the House so saying the party has collapsed across the country is a questionable assessment. The fact is she knows how to use political power which is exactly what you want in a Speaker of the House.

            The electoral side of it has to be a different calculus, although I understand why Republicans would suggest combinging the two.

          • Mike

            It’s indisputable that the party collapsed over the past decade. I’m not talking about just Congress or the presidency. It happened mostly at the state and local level.

            They’ve now started to claw their way back, but they were at a nadir, so that’s not saying much.

            As for her knowing how to use political power, well that’s a very questionable assessment. And the voters want someone else.

          • I think it’s all debateable. “the voters want someone else.” we don’t really know that. The voters elected their representatives and just gave the House back to the Democrats knowing full well — or they should have — that Pelosi would be speaker.

            Pelosi was responsible for getting health care through the house. I realize that’s a stain where Republicans are concerned but that was a pretty impressive display of power and the knowledge of how to use it AND what the voters want — or so they say — is for stuff to get done.

            In a divided government, somebody who knows how the system works and has the capital to make it work on the majority’s behalf is pretty darned important.

            Now, if you just want someone in there with the next election in mind, well, then what you’ve got basically is a Democratic version of Paul Ryan, whose place in American history is one of the most impotent speakers ever in the position. Sometimes a fresh face isn’t the answer.

            It’s undoubtedly true she’ll be Trump’s punching bag; he needs his boogeymen and she ‘s the obvious one. But that’s still playing the game on the defensive. And that’s the sort of thing that’s sunk Democrats.

            At the end of the day, the job of leadership in Congress is to get stuff done, though you’d never know that these days. But it is.

          • Mike

            Pelosi passed an unpopular healthcare law that became an albatross around the Democrats’ necks for several election cycles – due to its complexity and the fact that it helped some people but either didn’t help or hurt others. Certainly it helped preserve health insurance companies’ business model, which I suppose was the intent all along.

            It doesn’t necessarily follow that voting for Democrats means a given voter would want or expect Pelosi as Speaker. Often people vote *against* a candidate or party as much or more than they vote *for* someone else. Choices are limited in a two-party system. At any rate, Democratic voters clearly prefer someone else for the Speaker position.

            But of course Pelosi is great at raising money, and thus I think we arrive at an explanation for her support from party insiders.

          • Yep, politically it killed the Dems who wouldn’t campaign on it. It also saved people’s lives and — as Republican senators learned — people grew to like that fact.

            Perfect example of getting stuff done as job 1 and political survival being #2.

            That should be encouraging to everyone in a divided government because that’s what the voters said they want from their Congress.

          • Mike

            Yet for all the alleged heroism of Pelosi and company, the United States is still the only developed country in the world lacking universal healthcare. The Democrats had their chance to change that, and they punted. Those healthcare company contributions pay for a lot of campaign commercials. Not to mention, they preserve the officeholders’ viability as high-paid lobbyists once they leave office.

            I get it – we probably can’t do better than the ACA within the two-party system and the capture of American politics by the oligarchy we live in. That doesn’t mean we should be content with it.

          • Not that interested in reopening the ACA debate because it’s rather beside the point.

            A lot of people want politicians to hit five-run homeruns.

          • Mike

            Not beside the point at all when you’re citing it as the major achievement.

            It’s more like: every visiting team has hit multiple home runs, but we’re supposed to feel grateful that our feeble hometown team had a base hit.

          • Yeah it actually is beside the point because getting it through — no one else had ever done it despite the fact people were clamoring for health care — was about as skillful as it gets from a Speaker point of view. Whether it’s all you wanted is an entirely different matter.

            Say what you want about ACA, but the reality is that to the extent that people have more protection now than they did, it’s not because they put some fresh face in charge.

          • Mike

            Getting something through that was a watered-down version of what the public actually wanted isn’t some great achievement. Social Security was a great advancement, as was Medicare. The ACA is amateur stuff compared to those.

            Even if you think Pelosi was the right person in 2009-2010, it doesn’t logically follow that she’s the right person a decade later. No one is owed a position like Speaker. Times change, along with the public whim.

            Politics is a popularity business, which is something the Democrats in particular have had a lot of trouble understanding over the past decade, and their electoral results have borne that out.

            Fairly or not, Pelosi is not whom the voters want. House Democrats can ignore that if they like, but let’s not be surprised if that and other tone-deaf decisions doom their majority to one election cycle.

      • jon

        When I first read this comment I thought “and give Trump cover to revoke press passes because it costs to much?” But then said to my self that he loves being in TV to much to kick the press out of the white house… Just read that Acosta had his press pass revoked… And that’s what a motivated president with an enemies list would do…

        I kind of hope the rest of the press core just walks out… Clearly there is no news on the Whitehouse just propaganda.

  • A-man

    This Acosta stuff is getting a little out of control. He was definitely grandstanding today.

    • Tried to find the transcript to try to analyze the exact words of each gentleman — my deafness makes it impossible to know for sure by listening — only to find out the White House no longer provides transcripts of briefings and news conferences.

      • Greg W

        After the first few, the people writing the transcripts probably quit.

    • Rob

      And we can’t let the Grand Wizard of Incivility be upstaged by a lil’ ol’ reporter now, can we?

  • Ben Chorn

    Trump has the demeanor and temperament of a supreme court justice.

    • For. The. Win.

    • kevins

      But he’s been in the tanning booth…that is something ain’t it?

  • chlost

    I would not be surprised to hear of an “Enemies List” in this White House as well. Perhaps alternatively titled, but with the same intent. “Get ’em off our back”.

    • jon

      “List of really bad dudes, and mean ugly ladies.”

  • Rob

    Correction: Nixon asked Rather if he was running for, not from, something.
    And as my dear sainted mother used to say, “If someone acts like an ass to you, you’re under no obligation to be nice to them.” Go, Jim A.!

  • theoacme

    Because of Pelosi, of both Clintons, of Obama, of the many Iron Ranger DFL’ers who want me to take the risk of the destruction of the water of our state, of John Lewis’ deliberate defamation of Bernie Sanders, and because many Democratic Party supporters have called me a traitor because I voted for Jill Stein and Ralph Nader rather than Hillary Clinton and Al Gore (I would never have voted for either Clinton or Gore, regardless of whether a Green Party candidate was running or not), I consider the Democratic Party (both the national committee, and the Minnesota committee, and all their leaders) to be a branch of the Trumpian Republican Party, and thus, completely untrustworthy to do anything other than evil to me and my family, and completely trustworthy to do everything good for the rich and powerful.

    If it was a capital offense to refuse to vote for my “choice” of Democrats or Republicans, sentence to be carried out by public lynching, I am prepared to be lynched, right now, rather than support ANY Democrat or ANY Republican.