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President Interrupted: Neil Munro’s Rose Garden Exchange

by Sam Colt | Kenyon College

F Posted in: News and Politics P Posted on: June 18, 2012
obama press conference Image courtesy of Ankit Jain

President Obama’s announcement on Friday-that he would conditionally halt the deportation of illegal immigrants brought to the United States before age 16-was an unusual one, though not because of anything the President said.

Mid-speech, the President was interrupted by Neil Munro, a reporter for the conservative website Daily Caller, who is the site’s co-founder and editor-in-chief. The exchange, as reported by Politico, went as follows:

“Why’d you favor foreigners over Americans?” Munro shouted.

“Excuse me, sir, but it’s not time for questions,” Obama responded.

“Are you going to take questions?” Munro asked.

“Not while I’m speaking.” Obama said.

For a moment, the Rose Garden went silent.  The President finished his speech without further incident, though the interruption undoubtedly undermined a significant (and political) decision by the White House.

After the speech, Munro defended his outburst, citing his journalistic responsibility to ask questions. Tucker Carlson and the Daily Caller stood by their reporter on Twitter and in interviews. Suggesting that a reporter should strive to be more than a “political stenographer,” Carlson said, “He was doing what reporters are supposed to do — get their questions answered.”

With the exception of the Daily Caller, White House journalists reacted negatively to Munro’s heckling. Sam Youngman, a correspondent for Reuters, tweeted, “Who was that person who will never step foot in the White House again?” Huffpo’s Jennifer Bendery added, “Welp, looks like Daily Caller may be about to get WH press privileges revoked.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time a president has ever been interrupted while speaking. White House correspondents are known for calling out questions to the president whenever they see him, hoping in futility that he will respond. This notion prompted an official statement from Carlson, after Diane Sawyer called Munro a “heckler” on ABC News. In his statement, Carlson compared Munro to former ABC White House correspondent Sam Donaldson, who was known for calling out questions to President Reagan during his administration.

In response, Donaldson emailed the Huffington Post. “Never once did I interrupt a president in any way while he was making a formal statement, a speech, honoring awardees or in any other way holding the floor.” He continued, “What this man did yesterday is something new, to me wrong and unusual. I think it is probably the result of the growing incivility of the times, the competition among reporters and news organizations to be noticed not only for the work product but for the theatrics of the gathering.”

Munro’s outburst on Friday underscored the continued incivility Obama has experienced in office. This occurred most egregiously when Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted “You Lie!” during a speech Obama gave to Congress in 2009.

After the incident, Munro issued a statement on the Daily Caller website defending his actions. “I always go to the White House prepared with questions for our president. I timed the question believing the president was closing his remarks, because naturally I have no intention of interrupting the President of the United States,” he said.

Sam Colt Sam Colt Sam is a rising junior at Kenyon College from Atlanta, Georgia. He is majoring in history with a minor in humanities.

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