During a dinner with President Trump a few months ago, I expressed regret to him for the general behavior of the press in America. I did this not to pander to the President, but to discuss the disintegration of decorum that, as an American, disturbs me.
In the past, most credible journalists respected the office of the presidency, if not the person inhabiting it. President Nixon strained that respect as correspondents like Dan Rather openly loathed the man. But even Mr. Rather brought a modicum of respect to his White House beat.
In 1992, NBC News reporter Stone Phillips interviewed President Bush the Elder in the White House. Using a poorly sourced newspaper allegation that alleged Mr. Bush had committed adultery, the journalist confronted the President.
Phillips: “Have you ever had an affair?”
President Bush: “I’m not going to take any sleaze questions. I gave you a little warning. You see you’re perpetuating the sleaze by even asking the question – to say nothing of asking it in the Oval Office. And I don’t think you ought to do that and I’m not going to answer the question.”
Stone Phillips backed off and the appropriateness of the question was widely debated. To me, a journalist who has interviewed six Presidents, Mr. Bush was correct; the White House is the wrong place to attempt a tabloid exposition.
Today, many media people do not respect Donald Trump and, by extension, the position he holds or the place where he lives. The hate-Trump press explains its conduct by pointing to the President’s deficits. They attempt to justify their bad behavior by pointing to his bad behavior – as if a third grade rationalization excuses the media’s gross disrespect for the Executive branch.
Americans elect presidents and once that happens the person assuming the office should be afforded a blanket of respect simply for holding the position. The presidency is the apex of our republic, something President Bush well understood.
In the summer of 2007, I interviewed then Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for President. The chat was in York, Pennsylvania and was lively, to say the least. I challenged the senator and did not let him dodge. I had no problem describing some of his positions as misguided.
The next time I interviewed Mr. Obama he was President and we were in the White House. Whole new ballgame. My questions were still challenging but my tone was more measured. I mean, I couldn’t imply he was a pinhead as I can with senators and congresspeople. His status as the head of the country meant I had to respect his office.
And I did.
I remember getting a flood of letters from anti-Obama people accusing me of being “too soft” on Mr. Obama. These critics wanted rhetorical blood. But that would have not only have been disrespectful to him, but to the country.
By the way, the three chats I had with President Obama were the toughest interviews he saw. Check them out.
Today, President Trump is obviously not afforded respect by the media. Many in the White House press corps have been encouraged by their corporate masters to make Mr. Trump look bad. Legitimate questions are often asked in blatantly hostile tones. It’s wrong.
Americans deserve accountability from all presidents and the job of the press is to seek clarity and truth. But that’s not what’s going on today. It’s “get” Trump all day, every day.
Respect for the office of the presidency has vanished and it is unseemly. Donald Trump was awarded his job by the people. To not respect that is to insult the people.
And that’s what’s happening.