Major Garrett: A reporter the Founders would be proud of

July 19, 2015

MajorGarrett(Author’s note: the majority of this column is intentionally not in my words. They are instead exchanges between CBS White House correspondent Major Garrett, the President of the United States, and Garrett’s colleagues at CBS News. They are presented in detail for clarity and context of the type of reporting that has become far too rare among the Washington Press Corps)

If there is one constant throughout these past 6 ½ years it is that President Obama has very, very thin skin.

Latest case in point is this exchange between CBS White House correspondent Major Garrett and President Obama at his Wednesday press conference trumpeting the benefits of his Iran deal:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. 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?….

A: I got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails — Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better….Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals

With any other President, Garrett’s premise would have been deemed completely appropriate and deserving of an answer. But to the current crop of adoring scribes posing as reporters (A crop that is pathetically oblivious to the questioning Sam Donaldson and Dan Rather put forth to Presidents when they were in the White House Press Corps.) what Garret dared to do was nothing short of sacrilege.

And when CBS This Morning host Charlie Rose did his best to get an apology out of Garrett the next morning the veteran reporter was having none of it when he explained:

“…The president believed I was suggesting he was content with the Americans’ captivity. That wasn’t the basis of my question…What I wanted to drive at aggressively was why in a context when the president conceded many times in that press conference that choices had to be made and priorities had to be established, these four Americans were not prioritized in the context of the Iran deal. I believe that’s an important question on behalf of the four families and for this entire issue of hostages in general, which this administration has struggled with and personally Charlie I’ve done some soul searching about whether I’ve been aggressive enough as a reporter on behalf of hostages who are Americans held overseas.”…..”the whole point of the question, Charlie, was, why were these four Americans not accounted for in the context of negotiating a wide range of issues with the Iranians? Remember, in the final hours of this deal, the Iranians put other things on the table that hadn’t been previously discussed: the arms embargo on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles. If those could be introduced, it seems to me it’s reasonable to ask the commander-in-chief if other issues on the American side could have been introduced. I suggested there might have been one: the fate of four Americans. I stand by that.”

And then he closed to colleague Gayle King with: “The great thing Gayle about America and a free press, an accountable political class, is I get to ask questions, it’s a huge responsibility, I am perhaps an imperfect articulator of those questions but I ask them. Politicians give me answers and then the public, as they have for the last 24 hours, can pick apart every part of the question and the answer.”

No words I could write could better illustrate what the Founders intended when they carved out Constitutional protections for the American Press.

The Washington Press Corps has been shirking its duty for years now. We owe a thanks to Mr. Garrett for reminding us there’s still at least one reporter who hasn’t forgotten it.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: A version of this column first appeared in the July 19, 2015 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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