Op-ed: Defending the indefensible

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, July 21, 2015 3:41pm
  • Opinion

Not that you care, but allow me to confess that I am part of the media. Not only that, but I am often proud of it. I’m also often embarrassed. What makes me really happy, though, is that most people hate us. I guess that makes me a sociopath. Don’t waste your time accusing me of being one; I am well aware of it.

But enough about me, let’s talk about those who hold strong negative opinions about journalists: We are know-nothing vultures who trivialize everything, ignoring fairness and context in the bargain. You’re right, folks, but there’s another part of this equation: We’re human. Those among us who really do set aside our opinions and try to balance different, valid points of view still can blow it.

That brings us to Major Garrett, the CBS News correspondent who caused President Barack Obama to bristle with his question at the White House news conference called to sell the new nuclear deal with Iran:

“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 of the fanfare around this [nuclear] deal to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for, in relation to these four Americans?”

“The notion,” snapped the president, “that I am content, as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails — Major, that’s nonsense. And you should know better …”

What Major should have known was a less-clumsy way to ask a valid question. However, I’ve palled around with Major Garrett and competed against him for a long time. He is usually a solid, straight-arrow professional. Still, the reaction he got from Barack Obama was entirely appropriate. What has been less appropriate, however, is the usual poisonous vitriol that followed. Putting it mildly, Major Garrett was a monster and CBS News, the media in general, were right-wing zealots. Look no further than CBS News chief David Rhodes, who used to be a top executive at Fox News. That cinches it. Of course, he’s also the brother of Ben Rhodes, who is a ranking national-security official in the Obama administration. The thrashers on the left were ignoring that in the way that those on the right overlook the Fox connection when they’re foaming at the mouth over CBS. It does get silly.

And speaking of silly, allow me to weigh in on the Huffington Post decision to deny Donald Trump coverage as a bona fide GOP presidential candidate: “Instead we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait.”

That should not be their decision to make. His blowhard demagoguery has propelled him to the top of the Republican candidate heap. I’ll leave it to others to describe what kind of heap it is.

Besides, they would be missing all the action now that he demonstrated that there is such a thing in politics as too much nastiness. Sen. John McCain has been in the huge crowd of those with whom Trump has been trading insults. But then he dismissed McCain’s POW war-hero credentials with a flippant: “He was a war hero because he was captured; I like people who weren’t captured.” The others in the heap suddenly found the bravery to dump all over him. He of the fiery rhetoric is now busy trying not to go down in flames. True to form, he’s not about to apologize, and certainly not pull out.

From a strictly selfish perspective it would be a crying shame if he did quit. Those of us in the media would have one less cheap-shot artist to hand us stories. That approach to news, by the way, is an entirely valid criticism to make about the job we do or don’t do, which is to inform Americans about what matters.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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