When GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump ordered his bodyguard to strong-arm Latino newsman Jorge Ramos out of a news conference the other day, I was dismayed that no other reporters walked out in solidarity with the Univision anchorman.
LSU journalism professor Robert Mann in an article for Salon says that the incident reflects how reporters are more and more deferential to politicians like Trump. Mann, who also writes an excellent weekly political column for The New Orleans Times-Picayune, says press conferences increasingly are scripted events managed by politicians to impart pre-packaged messages. In the past, news conferences were more spontaneous and reporters more aggressive in their questioning, Mann claims.
The reporters at the Trump event did show docile acceptance of the candidate's bullying tactics, although Mann points out that MSNBC reporter Kasie Hunt stepped up to request Trump to ask Ramos back into the session.
Despite Mann's laments, reporters still show plenty of fire. Recently, Fox's Ed Henry incessantly peppered Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton about her private e-mail account when she was secretary of state, and CBS reporter Major Garrett recently irritated President Obama with questions about the nuclear deal with Iran in connection with a Washington Post reporter imprisoned there. Liberal commentators criticized Henry and Garrett for their aggressiveness, while seeing Ramos as a first-amendment hero.
Back when Watergate gripped the nation, reporters like CBS correspondent Dan Rather grilled President Nixon in the embattled last days of his administration. When Camelot ruled, John F. Kennedy's press conferences were generally a love fest, perhaps the reason why Kennedy gave so many more press conferences than today, when presidents all but shun what used to be considered a duty of the office.
Mann rightfully excoriates reporters for not showing more allegiance with Ramos. Yet Trump's bullying tactics are not new, nor are attempts by politicians to control what is considered "news." Those in the public eye have long sought to control the message.