The Right to do Journalism

America, the oft proclaimed land of the free, is becoming a place where the free are finding that free speech, much vaunted by the First Amendment, is subject to a deference tax which must be paid otherwise face the consequences. It was reported in May that ‘since Occupy Wall Street began last September, more than 75 journalists have been arrested.’

In the past week there has been a lot of fuss, including a call for a journalist to be fired for having the temerity to ask questions of the US President during a prepared statement he gave to the press at the White House Friday last.

Barack Obama, feeling safe on what he believed to be his own unassailable Rose Lawn, was pulled up short while issuing a monologue on immigration. Neil Munro, a scribbler with a right wing journal, The Daily Caller, asked questions that many with a liberal or left disposition would suspect are fuelled by ideas they do not approve of, in fact are deeply hostile to: ‘why’d you favour foreigners over Americans?’ and 'what about American workers who are unemployed, while you employ foreigners?' sort of underscore the point.

Questions that send our instinctive radar tracker bleeping as it detects a foreign body in the gene pool of ideas – a right wing conservative working to an agenda which might just spread. 

But that is no reason to want to have a question strangled, at least not for writers. Keep others away from the ink well and it is only a matter of time before the well dries up for you too. That basic journalistic principle however failed to prevent a number of liberal writers joining with their conservative colleagues across the US in heaping abuse on Munro.

Munro’s explanation for his actions was straight out of the journalistic school of first principles.

We at The Daily Caller will not try to be easy on him and try not to be easy on the next president. It’s our job to work for the American people through our publication to provide them the information that the politicians are reluctant to hand out. We’ve got to do our job.

What else is a journalist supposed to do? Those who might beg to differ have perhaps been too enamoured of the school of embedded journalism that really dug in at the start of the war Bush and Blair waged on Iraq. Despite his supposed breach of protocol Munro's actions are all the more defensible given that Obama seems to regard these events as a one man show on a one way street.

I know he rarely takes questions before walking away from the podium. When I asked the question as he finished his speech, he turned his back on the many reporters, and walked away while I and at least one other reporter asked questions.

Chris Bray with a keen eye for these matters asked the obvious question on his blog:

Why do reporters go to these things? They get no information that they couldn't get by sitting in their offices and reading the statement on the White House website or by watching the thing on CNN. What is the point of their presence? What are they doing?

And if they don't ask any questions, in what sense are they engaged in "reporting," and in what sense are they "reporters," and couldn't the news media just save resources by pooling their cash and hiring a single clerk-typist to transcribe the television feed, just in case the press office fails to spoonfeed the official transcript in a timely fashion?

Munro might sit on part of the political spectrum far removed for ourselves but being on the right should never be allowed to infringe on his being in the right as a journalist to do journalism.


  1. Can you see the similarities between the press in the US and here, indeed why bother to turn up at these "press briefings" if it was only for the optics and can you imagine the damage those bastards would do if no one was to keep an eye and ear on their actions remember Watergate,and the expenses scandal.

  2. AM

    Chris and yourself are spot on, even when they are allowed to ask question these mockney journos lob a soft ball, or give notice beforehand of what they will ask. Why bother indeed.

    In Westminster the 'lobby' works the same way, the guardian did withdraw from it once, but was soon enticed back. What happens if journalist refuse to play ball at these photo opps? they are denied access to presidents, PM's and ministers, etc and their bosses do not like that as it restricts their access too.

    Today's politicos are so used to being soft balled they cannot think on their feet when asked a difficult question. sure this happens only rarely, as they are well protected from the herd, but it does happen occasionally, Thatcher during the Falklands war is a good example, when a member of the public stumped the old witch on TV.

    Cameron falls to bits when he get bowled an off message googly.His surface lite eton charm evaporates and he is displayed as the nasty elitist bastard he undoubtedly is.

    Broadcasters like Paxman have a lot to answer for, they mascarade as tigers but in reality are purring pussycats in hoch to the bossman.


  3. Mick,

    good points here. A questioning rather than a deferential journalistic culture is necessary. Much more can be learned at times from the questions asked than from the answers given.

  4. Great point about being on the right not being grounds to dismiss his questioning attitude of the president. I'm of the "they're sneaking in anyway; legitimize them and add them to the tax-base" mentality myself, but if this administration can stonewall right-wing criticism - AND MORE IMPORTANTLY WE ALLOW IT - then who is to stop any reactionary right-wing government from giving our side much the same.

    Another point we should bring up is why is there only outcry against Obama on the Far Right? As progressives and humanitarians, shouldn't left-wing journalists have bones to pick with this administration, especially Eric Holder's starring role in "THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS" and its sequel "2 FAST 2 FURIOUS: BOSTON-TO-BELFAST DRIFT" ?

    And from a historical standpoint, freedom of the press is a newborn concept. Just 104 years ago the press in the USA acted in the interest of a corporate tycoon to start a war against Spain. With this right to Free Press being so hard-fought for, lets remember that it requires vigorous defense.

  5. Christopher,

    the outcry being restricted only to the far right serves to legitimise him even more than is merited from a liberal/left perspective.

    Stories of republican women ex-pows
    The stories reflect the privations and trauma,emotional and physical,that many of these women suffered during their time in prison.
    Told from the heart with candid recall-these experiences are burned into the memories of women who were in many cases mere teenagers when they were imprisoned.
    Thursday July 5th.

  7. Marty,

    I hope it turns out a great event.

  8. Christopher,

    I think the left or what is referred to as the left in the US have always been reluctant to hit out at the democrats in office. Hitchens claimed he was treated with scorn for having had a go at Clinton. Holder should be sacked. His behaviour is on a par with Nixon.