CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash today brushed back peer Major Garrett of CBS News for standing up and grandstanding in an East Room news conference after President Obama’s remarks on the Iran nuclear deal. “You know what it’s like to stand up and ask the president a question — and you do want to be tough,” said Bash, who herself once came under fire for questions. “But there’s a fine line, especially — maybe I’m old school — standing in the East Room — a fine line between asking a tough question and maybe crossing that line a little bit, and being disrespectful. So I think that that happened there.” That refers to this long-winded question from Garrett:
Thank you, Mr. President. As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran, three held on trumped-up charges that, according to your administration, one whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans? And last week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons. It is perceived that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations. Many in the Pentagon feel you’ve left the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff high out to dry. Could you comment?
The scoffing response from Obama was a classic in direct communication: “I’ve got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better,” Obama said, in part.
There are indeed times when a question is inappropriate and requires censure. Like June 2013, when then-“Meet the Press” host David Gregory put this inquiry before Glenn Greenwald in the aftermath of the first articles based on leaks from Edward Snowden. “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” Accusatory, baseless, reckless — a question that never should have been asked.
Garrett’s question bears none of those disqualifiers. Yes, it was theatrical. Yes, it was a bit presumptuous. Yes, it laid out a particular case. But it bore in on a critical matter, and one that is all over the news: Why are these Americans still sitting in Iranian prisons while U.S. officials are touting their diplomatic achievements? Though Garrett got ripped for asking the question, Obama went forth and gave an interesting response to it, including: “Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, ‘You know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.'”
Let’s circle back to Bash’s indictment: “But there’s a fine line, especially — maybe I’m old school — standing in the East Room — a fine line between asking a tough question and maybe crossing that line a little bit, and being disrespectful. So I think that that happened there.” Bold text added to highlight a troubling deference to pomp.