During the administration of Gov. Jim McGreevey New Jersey Statehouse reporters were summoned to the state treasurer’s office to get figures for the upcoming budget. I assigned one of our most capable investigative reporters, Sandy McClure, to the event. The treasurer informed a room filled with journalists that this was just for them, off the record, and that they had to keep it secret. At that point, McClure closed her notepad and walked out of the room. Followed by the rest of the Statehouse press corps. One of my proudest moments. Proud of Sandy and proud of the other New Jersey journalists who refused to play political games. Their job is to report, not keep secrets. Not act like politicians or be their pals. Journalists represent the people. They called another news conference later and this one was on the record.
I was thinking about this when I saw President-Elect Trump’s news conference in which CNN’s Jim Acosta tried to ask a question. Trump refused to allow it and said CNN was about fake news. Trump called on other reporters who walked over fellow journalist Acosta’s body as if a future president’s abusing a reporter on national TV for trying to ask a question was no big deal. Afterward, Acosta said, Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, threatened to remove Acosta. Later, career political hacks like Newt Gingrich suggested Acosta be barred for a while like some athlete who broke the rules in a game.
I am not surprised at Trump given his history of taking anything negative as a personal insult. Not surprised at opportunist Gingrich either — I remember when the small college history professor ran for Congress as a liberal and lost. He changed districts and his politics and the rest is history, some of it pretty damned sorry.
But I am surprised at how this press corp didn’t take up for one of their own. I remember a Nixon press conference where he refused to answer a question and every other reporter called on asked the very same question. Sometimes you don’t like a fellow reporter, but what they do is bigger than any individual. If journalists are going to turn their backs on colleagues doing their jobs they need not question why the public has lost confidence in them and what they do. They’re acting like opportunist politicians and should be treated as same.