The Ticket

Reporter who interrupted Obama: I thought he was finished

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
The Ticket

The journalist who sparked a ruckus inside the Beltway and on Twitter by interrupting President Barack Obama's formal remarks on immigration wants the world to know it was all a big misunderstanding. The Daily Caller's Neil Munro implausibly claims that he never meant to cut off the president and thought he was finished speaking.

"I timed the question believing the president was closing his remarks, because naturally I have no intention of interrupting the President of the United States," Munro said in a statement on the Daily Caller's website after his Rose Garden showdown with Obama.

"A reporter's job is to ask questions and get answers," said the site's editor in chief, Tucker Carlson. "Our job is to find out what the federal government is up to. Politicians often don't want to tell us. A good reporter gets the story. We're proud of Neil Munro."

The Daily Caller's publisher, Neil Patel, also chimed in: Munro "in no way meant to heckle the President of the United States."

"We are very proud of, @NeilMunroDC for doing his job," the Daily Caller said on its official Twitter feed.

But reporters near Munro during the outburst said, well, not so much to the whole "didn't mean to interrupt" the president thing. Many took to Twitter to share their doubts."I was two people over from Neil Munro. No one thought the president was wrapping up. I give that statement a great big Cow Pie Award," Brianna Keilar of CNN said on Twitter.

"I was standing right behind Munro in the Rose Garden," said Todd Zwillich, Washington correspondent for The Takeaway from Public Radio International, on Twitter. "Idea he 'mistimed' his questions isn't credible. He purposely interrupted."

"Munro told other reporters after Obama's statement, 'I'm asking questions. Because you people won't,'" Zwillich tweeted.

The official White House transcript of the event records that, after a visibly irritated Obama told Munro "Excuse me, sir. It's not time for questions, sir," the journalist replied: "No, you have to take questions."

"Not while I'm speaking," the president replied.

At the end of his remarks, Obama directed some of his remarks to Munro, who ultimately had the last word — or at least the last unanswered shouted question: "What about American workers who are unemployed while you import foreigners?"

Munro breached a longstanding — but unwritten — rule among White House correspondents: Don't interrupt the president's formal remarks. It is common for White House aides to tell reporters that there will be no questions at a given public event. And it is routine for those reporters to ignore that admonition and call out a question anyway, though always after the president is finished speaking. Presidents typically overlook those queries, smile, wave, and repeat "thank you" before leaving or they let their aides try to sheep-dog the press away.

But sometimes journalists get an answer (or at least a reply). That was the case in the Oval Office on Friday when, after Obama's cheerfully dismissive "thank you everybody," a reporter asked about Mitt Romney's attacks over Obama's "the private sector is doing fine" remark. The president responded with a long clarification of his earlier statements. (And sometimes the shouted question is yelled on principle rather than with the expectation of an answer.)

Opportunities to question the president are not that frequent. At this point in his presidency, Obama has had 72 total press conferences, including 31 by himself (without, for example, another world leader present), according to statistics compiled by Martha Joynt Kumar, a presidency scholar at Towson University. At a comparable point in his presidency, George W. Bush had had 79 total press conferences, 14 of those solo, said Kumar, who works out of the media workspace in the West Wing.

At the end of March, Obama had held 98 short question and answer sessions, typically one or two queries from assembled reporters. During the same time period, George W. Bush had undergone 317, Bill Clinton 516, George H. W. Bush 281 and Ronald Reagan 120, the political scientist said.

Obama prefers interviews: At the end of March, he had conducted 441. At similar points in their presidencies, George W. Bush had sat for 144, Clinton 178, George H. W. Bush 222, and Reagan 185.

Reporters don't blink when hecklers interrupt the president at campaign events, which tend to be rowdier, or cut him off in a debate setting, when the moderator's job is often to impose discipline. And press conference exchanges can get testy. Formal events, though, traditionally invite more decorum.

But Friday was not the first time that a president has weathered an unsolicited contribution to formal remarks. A Falun Gong activist infiltrated an April 20, 2006 White House welcoming ceremony for Chinese President Hu Jintao and heckled him, leaving White House aides red-faced. And Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina made headlines in September 2009 when he shouted "you lie!" at Obama as the president addressed a joint session of Congress. Wilson later apologized. George W. Bush suffered perhaps the most dramatic indignity when, in December 2008, a journalist in Baghdad hurled his shoes at the president.

View Comments