Senators banning entire newsrooms for previously published stories written by a few reporters has been going on for decades. One year, five or a decade passes. The senator feels he has been burned, and just hearing the name of a publication on a reporter’s lips sends him reeling.
What hasn’t always happened is reporters siding with the politician. The journalistic landscape between the Left and Right is more bitter than it has ever been.
Say hello to New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who has been carrying a mammoth grudge against The Daily Caller ever since Matthew Boyle and David Martosko — two journalists who haven’t worked at The Daily Caller in years — wrote stories about him. It makes sense. For Menendez, The Daily Caller brings back nightmares of stories involving him and underage prostitutes. This week he called the publication “trash” and refused to answer a simple question about the “Green New Deal.” He even threatened to call the authorities.
“Not interested,” Menendez told The Daily Caller’s Capitol Hill reporter Henry Rodgers. “I have nothing to say to the Daily Caller. You’re trash. I won’t answer questions to the Daily Caller, period! You’re trash! Don’t keep harassing me, or I’ll call Capitol Police!”
Reporters have always been pests. That’s the nature of the job. But that qualifies as harassing?
“To be clear, @senatormenendez called the Caller ‘trash’ for breaking news that led to an investigation which found ‘corroborated allegations’ he was having sex with underage prostitutes — which, btw, is what fuels human trafficking,” wrote The Daily Caller‘s Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Ingersoll.
The Daily Caller acerbically sympathized with Menendez; “Understandable @SenatorMenendez isn’t a fan. Our reporting kicked off the investigation into his alleged corruption where the Obama DOJ found ‘specific, corroborated allegations that defendants Menendez and Melgen had sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.’ Ouch.”
What doesn’t square is Washington Post‘s mustachioed reporter Dave Weigel, who happens to be the lead doppelgänger for El Chapo, celebrating Menendez publicly berating a Capitol Hill reporter and an intern.
“Go off king,” Weigel tweeted in approval of Menendez’s reaction.
When The Washington Post scribe was accused of cheering on Menendez, Weigel replied, “Oh, please. I’ve made fun of Menendez’s ability to survive any scandal. He just got reelected and he has impunity.” (RELATED: Weigel Calls Trump Supporters ‘Rubes’)
In an era when reporters ideally need to band together in the “Enemy of the People” climate, Weigel applauds a senator who threatens to call the cops on a credentialed reporter for asking a question.
Disturbingly, he wasn’t alone.
Jimmy Williams, a former MSNBC contributor, a former aide to a Democratic senator and a South Carolina political consultant, pulled out the knives and remarked, “Whatevs. Y’all just don’t get to play the moral high ground game. You were disqualified decades ago.”
Kim Masters, a reporter for The Hollywood Reporter, wrote of the senator’s behavior, “Works for me.”
Tricia Enright, communications director for Menendez, backed her boss. “Gotta respect Bob Menendez,” she wrote, explaining that Menendez called “Tucker Carlson’s website” trash.
Francisco J. Pelayo, who also works in Menendez’s communications office, yes-ed his boss. “Nope, there’s nothing to say to these folks,” he tweeted. “They’re not doing real reporting — they’re here to do ‘gotcha journalism’ for Tucker Carlson.”
Not everyone reacted like such chickenshits.
HuffPost and New York Mag reporter Yashar Ali asked Enright, “Your boss threatened to call the police on a credentialed member of the press. Is that inaccurate? Is that appropriate behavior?”
Joe Perticone, a political reporter for Business Insider, wrote, “If you have a problem with a publication you should present it to the standing committee of correspondents, not threaten a credentialed reporter for asking a question in a hallway. . . . Not at all OK for a senator to be threatening a credentialed reporter on the Hill. Full stop.”
Somehow CNN doesn’t elicit Weigel’s wrath. Or that of Williams, Masters, or Enright or Pelayo.
On Wednesday, Manu Raju, a well-liked longtime Capitol Hill reporter, received unexpected crap from Rep. Illhan Omar (D-Minn.). Like The Daily Caller reporter, he was dressed in a suit and tie and asking questions she didn’t feel like answering. “What is wrong with you?” she asked him.
Unlike The Daily Caller, CNN enjoyed a cheering squad of reporters who backed Raju’s right to ask questions while the congresswoman behaved like a toddler. And Omar didn’t even threaten to call the Capitol Police on Raju. She just snapped at him.
“If you don’t want to face questions from reporters, don’t run for Congress,” tweeted Politico‘s senior Capitol Hill reporter John Bresnahan, in support of Raju, an ex-Politico reporter.
CNN’s Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter also obviously sided with Raju. “This attitude from @IllhanMN — don’t question me, just quote my tweets — is a problem on both sides of the aisle. Politicians’ tweets aren’t a substitute for journalism, they’re a starting point for journalism,” he tweeted.
Somehow Stelter has yet to comment on Menendez threatening Daily Caller reporters for asking questions. Stelter blew off an email request for comment about whether he intends to cover this on his show or if he plans to speak out on this matter. But I’d definitely be willing to cover it in an upcoming Daily Caller feature: “We Watch CNN’s Terrible Media Show So You Don’t Have To.” Stelter has been compared to a palace “eunuch.”
Rodgers told The Mirror that some journalists privately approached him in the gallery Thursday to offer gracious comments. But by and large, he said, the support did not compare to what CNN’s Raju received Wednesday.
“The hypocrisy is outrageous at this point,” he said. “It wasn’t even a tough question. It was a softball question. I was trying to get 10 Democrats on the record about the Green New Deal. It was not gotcha journalism.”
Rodgers noted that he would go on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” if Stelter asked.
He said he’d also approach Menendez again. “Yeah, I would 100 percent go up to him again without question,” he said. “I had my intern looking for him today. I was looking for him today just to see if I could get a follow-up.”
Other reporters have also received widespread support from their peers.
Last November, the White House yanked CNN Jim Acosta‘s press pass after he asked a question too many. President Trump and the White House press office accused Acosta of putting his hands on a female White House intern, which was not true. The intern tried to snatch the microphone. Acosta wouldn’t let go. The microphone might have been unhappy. But that doesn’t mean he physically assaulted her.
The entire journalistic world was outraged and shouted out various defenses in the days that followed. The White House Correspondent’s Association issued a statement of support, calling what happened “out of line to the purported offense.” WHCA President Olivier Knox called the White House’s move “weak” and demanded that they reinstate Acosta’s credentials.
“Journalists may use a range of approaches to carry out their jobs and the WHCA does not police the tone or frequency of the questions its members ask of powerful senior government officials, including the President,” he wrote. “Such interactions, however uncomfortable they may appear to be, help define the strength of our national institutions. We urge the White House to immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.”
Ultimately, Acosta was allowed to return.
Bans can go both ways. Sometimes networks ban pundits or members of the administration from their airwaves. In 2016, CNN banned longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone when went on Twitter and called CNN analyst Ana Navarro “dumber than dog shit.” In 2017, MSNBC’s Mika Scarborough banned White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway from appearing on “Morning Joe.” At the time, Mika said Kellyanne was trying to book herself on the show, but Mika wouldn’t allow it because of Kellyanne’s “fake news.”
When I worked for The Hill, then-New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner iced me out for an entire year when he didn’t care for a question an intern asked for a light-hearted Mother’s Day feature. His relationship with Capitol Hill reporters would worsen after he tweeted a picture of his ding dong and lied about it. He is now doing time for sexting with a minor. The question my intern asked was, “What’s the best piece of advice your mother has ever given you?” Karissa Marcum asked. Weiner’s reply: “I wouldn’t know the answer to that question if you gave me two days, two months or two years.”
Having interviewed him before, this certainly sounded like him. The story published. Weiner fumed. He maintained he was being sarcastic or joking with the intern. As his name implies, he was being a d*ck. But how were we to know? Perhaps lawmakers should wear signs when they decide to behave like assholes.
This week, Menendez made a scene, which made for fantastic audio and great journalism.
But maybe next time, he won’t feel the need to involve the police when a reporter asks him a question.
And perhaps Weigel and others can hide how biased they really are.