How does it feel to get rebuked by the President of the United States on national television for asking a tough question? While some of Major Garrett’s colleagues in the media wagged their fingers at the framing of his question, the CBS White House correspondent doesn’t seem to be losing sleep over it. “Clearly, it struck a nerve,” Garrett tells Contessa Brewer. “That was my intention.”
“Clearly it struck a nerve,” Garrett told CBS anchor Contessa Brewer. “That was my intention. Because everyone who works for the president, and the families of those four Americans, have heard the president say he’s not content and they will work overtime to win their eventual release.”
“Was it provocative? Yes. Was it intended to be as such? Absolutely,” Garrett said on the network’s livestreaming website, adding he wanted to get Obama to share “a full range of his interpretation of the whys and why-nots” of not including the Americans’ release in the deal announced Tuesday.
“I believe that was achieved. Sometimes you have to take a president’s scolding, if that’s the best way to characterize it, in order to get to an answer like that, that’s part of my job. My skin’s plenty tough enough, and I look forward to the next press conference,” Garrett added.
Garrett wings a rebuke right back at Obama to start off his remarks. “Politicians, especially those who are elected President of the United States,” Garrett notes, “are very adept at creating straw men… That’s exactly what the President did.” That’s exactly what this President always does, including at this press conference. Obama crafted his argument as if the deal was the only alternative to an immediate war, which is utter nonsense — and ignores the fact that Iran is conducting hot wars around the region already in Syria, Yemen, and in support of Hamas in Gaza.
Obama’s defense of his exclusion of the four Americans was also a straw man. There is nothing mutually exclusive about negotiating for prisoners in a diplomatic deal. Obama got around to a better explanation toward the end, but the beginning of his answer made it sound as though Obama had to choose between one or the other, which is only true if you’re a really lousy negotiator. The Iran deal speaks for itself on that point.
Not all of Garrett’s journalistic peers spent the evening sneering at him. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple called the reaction among the media “a troubling deference to pomp”:
Yes, it was theatrical. Yes, it was a bit presumptuous. Yes, it laid out a particular case. But it bore in on a critical matter, and one that is all over the news: Why are these Americans still sitting in Iranian prisons while U.S. officials are touting their diplomatic achievements? Though Garrett got ripped for asking the question, Obama went forth and gave an interesting response to it, including: “Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, ‘You know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.’”
Let’s circle back to Bash’s indictment: “But there’s a fine line, especially — maybe I’m old school — standing in the East Room — a fine line between asking a tough question and maybe crossing that line a little bit, and being disrespectful. So I think that that happened there.” Bold text added to highlight a troubling deference to pomp.
There’s been a lot of that over the last six-plus years. I can’t wait for a Republican to win the presidency so that all of the fainting-couch class of the White House press corps can rediscover their journalistic toughness.