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The Importance of Impertinent Questions

A reporter asked a tough question at a presidential news conference Wednesday, and it was one of the big stories of the day. Not the continued imprisonment of American hostages by our new best friends in Iran that prompted the question, nor the president’s newsworthy indignant non-response, but just the fact that a reporter had asked a tough question at a presidential news conference. This might seem odd, given all that’s going on the world, but by now there’s a certain dog-bites-man aspect to riots in Greece and Chinese stock market slides and American capitulations to nutcase regimes, while presidential news conferences are rare and tough questions being asked there even rarer.
The question was posed by Major Garrett, of all people, from CBS News, of all places, so that makes it all the more notable. After some gloating by the president about his newly-made deal with the government of Iran, Garrett asked: “Thank you, Mr. President. As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran, three held on trumped-up charges according to your administration and one whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content with all the fanfare around this deal to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?” In non-response, the president offered a widely reported glare and replied, “I’ve got to give you credit for how you craft these questions. The notion that I’m content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that’s — that’s nonsense, and you should know better.”
How Garrett should have known better was not explained in the president’s remarks, given the president’s apparent contentment with the deal, and that from the outset of his give-away-the-store negotiations he had agreed not to raise any “non-nuclear issues” such as the four Americans languishing in Iranian jails, and that the latest incidents in Iran’s long history of American hostage-taking would have once again gone entirely unmentioned if not for the impertinent question. Still, the rest of the assembled press corps, who took up the rest of the time asking tossing softballs and refusing to play defense against the presidential’s questionable assertions about his gloating, were quite shocked by the lese majeste of the query, and the president’s dwindling cadre of supports immediately took to Twitter and other social media to express their indignation.
The indignant panelists on CNN even spent a couple of hours of airtime that could have been devoted to the myriad flaws in the president’s deal or the rioting in Greece or the scary economic developments in China with much huffing and puffing about such flagrant disrespect for a president. Those panelists cited their long experience of covering presidential press conferences, but apparently it doesn’t stretch back far enough to recall the rough treatment that George W. Bush and other previous presidents used to get it. The second Bush considered it a good press conference when he didn’t have to dodge any shoes being thrown at him, or endure the cheerleading for the shoe-thrower from the rest of the press corps, and even the Democratic presidents of our recollection all were subjected to more pointed questions.
Perhaps Garrett’s question was crafted to imply a certain presidential insouciance about the hostage Americans, and perhaps we should more generously assume that the president does truly care about those Americans but just not enough to let it interfere with his capitulation to Iran’s nuclear ambitions for the sake of his legacy, but we’re glad it was asked nonetheless, and we’re pleased that Garrett thus far isn’t backing down to the criticism. That hostage-taking remains a part of Iran’s as defiant-as-ever anti-western crusade, and that the deal the president is gloating about does nothing to deter that country’s constant global trouble-making and instead provides them with hundreds of billions of dollars to do more of it, deserves some attention, and should raise doubts about the rest of it. A better press corps would have followed up on that question, but the one we’ve got was more offended that one of their own would be so gauche as the ask a rude question of this particular president.

— Bud Norman

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