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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