By Robert Mann

When I heard that Donald Trump had booted Univision’s Jorge Ramos from a press conference on Tuesday in Dubuque, Iowa, I couldn’t wait to watch the indignant response of the other journalists in the room.

That’s because I was ejected from a press conference many years ago in Louisiana, where I was political writer for the Shreveport Journal. A quirky, minor candidate for the U.S. Senate – Larry “Boogaloo” Cooper – took offense at my questions. He angrily ordered me to leave the room. I got up and left. When I reached the lobby, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the other journalists had followed me. In solidarity with a fellow reporter, they had all walked out on the petulant candidate. The press conference was over.

As I started the Trump video, I wondered, how would Ramos’ colleagues in the press respond? Having once been on the other side of the podium as a press secretary for several prominent elected officials, I should not have been surprised by what I saw – but I was. As one of Trump’s security guards hustled Ramos from the room, nary a reporter followed him in protest. In fact, no one immediately objected or questioned Trump about the incident.

After an awkward pause, the reporters went back to the business of politely raising their hands, waiting like trained seals for Trump to call upon them. They continued asking him questions, dutifully recording his answers and tweeting them to their readers. CNN continued to broadcast the event, no doubt gleeful about the drama and the extra viewers the incident would attract.

Sure, the assembled later mentioned that Ramos had been ejected and that Trump had told him to “go back to Univision.” But they stayed in the room. They didn’t protest as Trump tossed one of their colleagues from a press conference. (Finally, one journalist did speak up. MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt valiantly asked Trump to readmit Ramos. He did.)

The next day, however, Ramos had few defenders among the news media. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski observed that Ramos made the room “awkward and uncomfortable with other reporters.” On CNN, Chris Cuomo arrogantly lectured Ramos: “It’s his press conference. He runs the rules. You jumped the queue.”

On Fox News, Jesse Watters of “The Five” observed, “Ramos acted like an illegal alien and got treated like one. He cut the line, was disruptive and then was deported and then Trump let him back in.” In a column, Fox’s Howard Kurtz complained, “Ramos broke in without being called on—and I’m sorry, that’s not some polite society rule, that’s basic civility when a presidential candidate is taking questions.”

“Sorry” is the right word, but only to describe the collective media behavior during and after the episode. It confirmed what many of us already know: American political journalism is a pitiful, cowardly shell of its former self.

Every week, political blowhards appear on the network news shows to spout their very predictable talking points. The hosts rarely subject them to uncomfortable questions. “Ye gads,” I imagine them thinking, “ what if I pissed off John McCain and he refused to come on my show again?”

Sometimes I wonder if we are just two steps away from these “news” shows finally morphing into a Barbara Walters interview. (“Senator, if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”)

The political press conference was once a high-stakes affair. The president or some other political figure would enter the room, girded for pitched battle with the assembled journalists. There was sometimes true drama as the reporters jumped up, shouted, threw sharp elbows and muscled themselves into position to fire tough questions at the president or a candidate. 

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13 thoughts on “The modern press conference is a farce: What the Trump-Ramos dust-up says about U.S. journalism

  1. Good Salon piece…will be interested to know if you hear from any journalists who agree with you—besides academics who can afford to be idealistic…


  2. Was it reasonable for Ramos to suspect he would never be called upon given his relationship with Trump? In a word, yes. That important context is largely left out of this discussion. If, as this column suggests, all the “news” we get goes through various filters how can we be expected to ever be exposed to reality? Is this, perhaps, why so many people nowadays seem to be creating their own realities?

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  3. Perfect, Bob. You put your finger on the very thing that’s been bothering me since I saw the video of the “news conference.” The reporters there were not much more than stenographers — and it’s been that way for too long.


  4. …and your shout out to Dan Rather reminded me of a press conference back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and it was Nixon v. Rather at the height of the Watergate affair.

    Len Hart was there and described it best, calling it “one of the strangest ‘news conferences’ that I ever covered as a working correspondent. It took place at the height of the Watergate scandal.

    “I was in Jones Hall (Houston) covering Nixon’s Press Conference when Nixon and Dan Rather (CBS News) had a sharp exchange. When D. Rather approached the press podium, he intro’ed himself —“Dan Rather, CBS News”

    “Half the hall cheered, the GOP half (including some network executives) jeered.

    “When the hubbub subsided, Nixon said: ‘Are you running for something, Mr. Rather?’ Rather shot back: ‘No, Mr President! Are YOU?’

    “That’s when all hell broke loose. I had never and have never since been a part of a news conference quite like it. The incident made the history books.”

    I was watching that day and had to stop and pick my jaw up off the floor.
    Oh, for more of that these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If I recall my history lessons correctly, we fought a world war against Nazi Germany to reclaim freedom of the press from a dictator who totally controlled the media, for that country and most of Europe.

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  6. News conferences as conceived by Trump are not news conferences but diatribes, tirades and rants where Trump speaks continuously and the media sit like scared puppies afraid that they will miss something truly outrageous and be scooped by CFoxNMSNBC or whoever.


  7. To be completely honest, I have stopped watching Morning Schmoe. Schmoe is a has-been former politician who is a bully on the show. If you dare to disagree with him he’ll raise his voice and just shout you down. Mika has just devolved into Schmoe’s ventriloquist’s dummy. There are many other things I can waste my time on in the a.m.


  8. One of the problems with modern journalism is that so many “journalists” are also activists for a particular cause or party. For instance, Fox News tends to be the mouth piece of GOP propaganda while MSNBC gives a more progressive spin to the news. Ramos is a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform (as am I) and has made this known. I suspect that when journalists become activists perhaps they lose some sort of high ground from which to operate. I was also disappointed that other journalists didn’t leave with Ramos. It seems the Big Whigs have gained such control that the news media is at their beck and call, and now these men in power no longer fears the Fourth Estate.


  9. I hate to say it, but one look at the movie “Network” shows that satire is what journalism and media are today. The scarier fact is that most people don’t seem to be troubled by it.


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