People complain about reporters asking asking crazy questions, but those are sometimes the ones that get the most interesting results.
For example, in the video below, the reporter goes through the trouble of setting up an ambush interview on a Congressman, and then asks him a really dumb generic question: “Do you fully support the Obama agenda?”
I mean, seriously, couldn’t he have phoned that one in? Ambush interviews are supposed to be for hitting people with questions they really don’t want to hear, like “We have a witness who says you sold your BP stock because you received inside information from the CEO. How do you respond, Senator?” or “Is it true you just spent a week in Argentina with your mistress?”
A good ambush interview is wasted on a pointless question like “Do you fully support the Obama agenda?” which any seasoned politician can answer with a platitude like “My voting record speaks for itself.” There’s no way you can get a good story out of that.
Unless, that is, you get a response like this guy got from Democratic representative Bob Etheridge:
Of course, this is all over the internet. Yet, as Ethical Alarmist Jack Marshall points out, the news media is missing the story:
Today, the day after a video surfaced showing North Carolina Congressman Bob Etheridge grabbing, restraining, and wrapping his hand around the neck of a young man who dared to ask him a question on a Washington D.C. sidewalk, “The Daily Beast’s” #4 story was the revelation that former Ebay CEO and current G.O.P. candidate for governor of California once shoved an Ebay subordinate in a moment of anger and paid six figures in damages. The story about a sitting U.S. Congressman assaulting a U.S. citizen without provocation on a public street doesn’t appear anywhere in the liberal-leaning news aggregation site’s news summary.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post relegated coverage of the Etheridge attack to its blogs, most of which made the focus of their coverage the “mystery” of the assaulted student’s identity and that of his companion. This theme was picked up elsewhere too: Who were these guys? Were they Republican operatives? Right Wing hit men disguised as students? Was this a plot?
Here is the complete list of people who could have been the victims of Etheridge ‘s assault whose identity and motives would change his culpability: nobody. It doesn’t matter if the student Etheridge assaulted was really Karl Rove on his knees, or Ann Coulter in a mask, or Lindsay Lohan in a desperate cry for help. It doesn’t make one bit of difference. A U.S. Congressman assaulted a citizen in public.
Really, shouldn’t that be the big story?
Some people have suggested that this is a Republican dirty trick of some kind, buttressing their arguments with the fact that the face of the on-camera interviewer is blurred out, and he has not been identified. As some Democratic party hack puts it:
“Motives matter, and I think you can see who was behind this,” said DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse just now. “This was a Republican party tracking operation. If it wasn’t a party tracker or intern, why is the face blurred and why is the source hidden? You know if it had been a right wing blog, they’d identify themselves and they’d be booking this person on TV all day. Republicans know if they admit their involvement in this game of gotcha it will undermine their credibility. One minute this guy is interviewing a member of Congress on camera and the next a video is released with his face blurred out? If that doesn’t tell you this is a Republican Party hatchet job nothing will.”
I was inclined to buy this scenario at first. I know if I had been the interviewer and gotten a video this great, I sure wouldn’t have taken my name off of it. It does seem a little suspicious.
(Note that I was just buying the scenario, not the argument — assaulting people on the public street doesn’t become okay just because they’re members of the opposition party.)
But then, I got to thinking…If this was a setup, what exactly was the plan here? How could these supposed Republican party operatives have known the Congressman would go off like that?
And here’s another one:
“It was pure Gotcha, try to trap a congressman, because they refused to tell them who they were, what school they were from,” [Democratic Consultant Brad] Crone said. “And if you’re working on a project, tell the truth.”
Crone’s got a point. It’s not required by law or anything, but most real reporters give their names and the name of the organization they work for. I know I try to do it when I interview someone, but I sometimes forget. Maybe the kid forgot too.
Or maybe he intentionally withheld his identity.
But so what? If this was a “Gotcha,” what was the plan? How was asking a simple, vapid question a “trap”? Most public figures would have politely asked for a name and then walked off if they got no response. Again, for this to be some sort of Republican plot, these two guys would have had to somehow predict that Etheridge would go nuts like this.
I’m not buying it. Etheridge assaulted some guy on the street. That’s the story.
Update: Jamison Koehler discusses the legal definition of assault in D.C.