Doesn’t any­body here re­spect us jour­nal­ists?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

The snowflake dis­ease is catch­ing. Don­ald Trump, of all peo­ple, tried to teach a cou­ple of White House re­porters a lit­tle needed man­ners this week and you might have thought he had re­pealed the First Amend­ment with an ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

Sev­eral of the snowflakes, who make their liv­ing by pos­ing em­bar­rass­ing when not rude ques­tions to nearly ev­ery­one they talk to in pur­suit of a day’s work, took to the faint­ing couches in the White House press lounge af­ter the pres­i­dent re­turned shot for shell.

Yamiche Al­cin­dor of Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio asked the pres­i­dent why he calls him­self a “na­tion­al­ist” when he should know that the word has been twisted into a mean­ing it once never had.

“Mr. Pres­i­dent,” she said, “on the cam­paign trail you called your­self a ‘na­tion­al­ist,’ and some heard that as em­bold­en­ing white na­tion­al­ists. There are some peo­ple that say the Repub­li­can Party is seen as sup­port­ing white na­tion­al­ists be­cause of your rhetoric. What do you make of that?”

This is the clas­sic ‘when-did-you-stop-beat­ing your wife’ ques­tion. To an­swer it is to ac­cept the premise, that a na­tion­al­ist is a racist and bigot sim­ply be­cause “some peo­ple” say so, and that “the Repub­li­can Party is seen as sup­port­ing white na­tion­al­ists be­cause of [the pres­i­dent’s] rhetoric.” She ap­par­ently never learned that “some” is not a le­git­i­mate source.

The pres­i­dent might have del­i­cately said some­thing like “I have never said any­thing to sup­port ra­cial big­otry,” or merely de­fined “na­tion­al­ism,” a de­vo­tion to na­tional rather than in­ter­na­tional goals, and let it go. But It’s dif­fi­cult for any­one, even a pres­i­dent, to let such an ac­cu­sa­tion go. At­tribut­ing big­otry to some­one with whom you dis­agree has be­come a lib­eral’s first line of ar­gu­ment, and even a pres­i­dent finds it hard to ig­nore, and this pres­i­dent doesn’t do let­ting it go.

“I don’t know why you’d say that,” Mr. Trump replied. “Such a racist ques­tion. Hon­estly? Let me tell you, that’s a racist ques­tion. Why do I have the high­est poll num­bers ever with African Amer­i­cans? That’s such a racist ques­tion. I love our coun­try, I do. You have na­tion­al­ists, and you have glob­al­ists. But to say what you said to me is so in­sult­ing to me. It’s a very ter­ri­ble thing you said.”

“The Wash­ing­ton Press Corps,” re­ported one Web pub­li­ca­tion, “was floored.” The White House re­porters, who can some­times seem like a “corps,” but the re­porters who cover the pres­i­dents are never so or­ga­nized as a “corps.” (Aside to Barack Obama, the scholar from Har­vard, Columbia, and Oc­ci­den­tal Col­lege, it’s still pro­nounced as if it were spelled “core” not “corpse,” which is a dead per­son.)

Judy Woodruff, the Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio in­ter­locu­tor and dowa­ger queen of elec­tronic news, leaped to the de­fense of Yamiche Al­cin­dor; “My [NPR] col­league Yamiche is a com­plete pro­fes­sional, an ut­terly fair and hard­work­ing re­porter,” she twit­tered on Twit­ter. “She did not ask a racist ques­tion.” (So there.)

John King of CNN agreed. [The pres­i­dent] knows the word ‘na­tion­al­ist’ has bag­gage.” April Ryan of Amer­i­can Ur­ban Ra­dio, who de­scribes her­self as “taken aback” by the ex­change be­tween pres­i­dent and re­porter, said Mzz Al­cin­dor asked a real ques­tion be­cause [the pres­i­dent] “is a white man who is a na­tion­al­ist.” April Ryan said Mzz Al­cin­dor was left cov­ered by “a residue of hate,” though she still looks OK to me, a comely young woman of in­tel­li­gence and of cu­rios­ity. She’s not re­spon­si­ble for how oth­ers see her, residue or not. Jef­frey Bal­lou of Al Jazeera, the Is­lamic net­work, said the pres­i­dent’s re­marks “may be free speech, but be­yond the pale of re­spect­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­ally en­shrined role of jour­nal­ists.”

That was a new one to me, though I have been in this busi­ness, man and boy, for a lot of years. I never knew I was “con­sti­tu­tion­ally en­shrined.” The real re­porter is happy to an­swer to “re­porter,” en­shrined or not and never joins the search for a four-bit word to re­place the two-bit word for “news­pa­per­man,” who knows bet­ter than to try to make him­self more im­por­tant than he is by be­com­ing part of the story. News­pa­per­men never aspire to celebrity, even the cheesy celebrity ac­corded by a tele­vi­sion cam­era, and are will­ing to abide re­buke and worse, even by a pres­i­dent, if that’s what it takes to get the story.

That’s the es­sen­tial dif­fer­ence be­tween a tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist, for whom celebrity is the all and all, and the news­pa­per­man, who knows he’s fol­low­ing a slightly im­po­lite trade. He has no need of a snowflake’s safe space, where he can re­treat from abuse and af­front. He mea­sures suc­cess by whether he gets the story, and if he gets it right that’s re­ward enough, and if a politi­cian doesn’t like it, tough. Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

Judy Woodruff

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