Tension on display between public officials and the press

Hillary Clinton is not the only public figure trying to put journalists in their place.

Earlier this month, the former Secretary of State angered reporters when staffers from her presidential campaign kept the media at bay – with a rope – while she marched in a Fourth of July parade in Gorham, New Hampshire.

This week, two highly visible exchanges illustrated the less-than-affable nature of the relationship between today’s public figures and the men and women who cover them.

In New York City, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton responded to reporters’ questions by telling them how to do their jobs and by firing back retorts that did not address their questions.

At the White House, President Barack Obama chided CBS News correspondent Major Garrett for a question about four Americans who are being held captive in Iran:

“I gotta give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions,” the president said. “The notion that I’m content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails. Major, that’s nonsense and you should know better.”

Tension between public officials and journalists is nothing new, but their relationship is becoming increasingly confrontational. I wrote about this trend in a 2009 column, and it has continued to intensify.

As far as this week’s exchanges are concerned, I was not at either event, so my observations are not based on first-hand accounts.

From what I read, I take issue with Bratton. The questions the reporters asked were legitimate. They dealt with crime rates, traffic enforcement and departmental policies. They deserved serious answers.

On the other hand, I will give the president a pass – sort of.

Garrett’s question was legitimate. We do need to know how the fates of four Americans will be affected by the nuclear agreement negotiated with Iran. But Garrett worded things in such a way that it contained implications and assumptions that do not belong in an objective question:

“As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran, three held on trumped-up charges, according to your administration, 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 and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?”

The bottom line is this: Journalists have a job to do; so do public figures. When they treat each other with respect, things work best – not just for them, but for the citizenry which is affected by what both parties do in their very important jobs.

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