By now, you’ve probably seen the video of Jim Acosta’s wrestling match with President Trump at Wednesday’s news conference.
If you missed it, here it is:
The whole thing was an embarrassment for all concerned. Acosta looked like an unprofessional prima donna — swatting away the arm of a White House intern trying to take back the mic — and the president looked like a petulant, temperamental scold. Neither man brought honor to himself or his profession. In a matter of minutes, The White House, the People’s House, became Madison Square Garden, with the whiff of beer and popcorn in the air and the sound of screaming banshees all around.
It doesn’t have to be this way. And for decades, in fact, it wasn’t.
I can remember when I first started working for CBS News in the early ’80’s, and presidential press conferences were prime time events treated with a certain decorum and deference — on both sides of the podium.
President Reagan, of course, was a master at the form.
George W. Bush, likewise, knew how to command attention and demand respect. And the press didn’t try to monopolize the room, seize the spotlight or throw tantrums.
When President Obama started holding press briefings, he tried a different approach: reporters were pre-selected in a particular order, so everyone knew who would ask the next question and when. The sanity and civility was so uneventful, it was almost dull.
Wouldn’t dull be refreshing these days?
I’m not sure when or how these events turned into WWF wrestling matches. I blame both sides: the president, for tolerating and encouraging this nonsense, and the press for caring more about “gotchas” and “gimmes” than really trying to just get the news. Televised press briefings have always had an unpredictable, theatrical air to them — they were reality television long before “The Apprentice” — but this crap is getting out of hand.
And we are the ones who suffer. The public doesn’t get any useful information from these spectacles. To top it off, the media ends up looking foolish, unserious and painfully, irritatingly, narcissistic — which is exactly what its most vocal critics (including the president) want.
Heckuva job, Jim Acosta.
Of course, President Trump isn’t helping. He likes to play to the balcony, and throw people off balance, and he gives as good as he gets. He dodges, he paces, he points, he bellows, he accuses; he makes stuff up; he calls people names. He’s a president without precedent. Okay. Fine. But to what end?
There’s got to be a better way. There used to be. Can’t we go back to something resembling sanity and maturity?