New Jersey Columnist Had His Mike Cut Off As He Questioned Dan Rather

March 14th, 2006 7:29 AM
From the Cherry Hill, New Jersey Courier-Post, (via Romenesko and Senor Spruiell at NRO), we learn that humor columnist Jim Walsh got a surprising kick out of trying to get Dan Rather to see how journalism is practiced as it's preached...and found his microphone cut off:

I logged another first in my reporting career last week.

Your humble correspondent was booed.

And for that honor, I must thank either my own rude behavior -- or a bunch of folks with no appreciation for irony.

Here's the scene: Former CBS anchorman Dan Rather is in Cherry Hill, giving a speech about the need for journalists to do better.

"What's gone out of fashion is the tough question and the follow-up," he tells an admiring audience of about 600 people at Cherry Hill's Star Forum.

So how can I, the guy covering Rather's remarks, just sit there?

When he finishes, I hurry to a floor mike to ask Rather about an issue that will be part of my story.

"Mr. Rather," I say. "Great suggestions. But you left the anchor desk last year after your report questioning President Bush's military service was discredited. Key memos could not be authenticated. Do you think the failure to ask questions then affects your credibility now?"

Rather responds with civility -- if not clarity. He notes, in part, that an independent review "couldn't determine whether the documents were authentic or not."

Eager to please, I follow up: "The Courier-Post won't run something if we're not sure it's authentic. Are you saying it's OK . . ."

But my microphone goes dead -- and the audience stirs to life.

Some people jeer. Others glare and scowl (I can now distinguish between the two). This continues outside as I call in my story.

Gee, Rather's speech never mentioned this.

But for everyone I offended, here's more bad news.

I still think the question had to be asked -- and, for deadline reasons, it had to be asked then. And while it was nice that some people at the forum shared my view, it's OK that many others did not.

See, reporters expect criticism. It's part of the job -- from the editor who thinks a sentence could be clearer to the story subject who wishes the same line had never run.

We don't shrug off complaints -- and, let's hope, we sometimes learn from them.

But most of us don't take them personally, either.

Some in the public see things differently.

Consider this e-mail from a woman in Rather's audience: "It is my opinion that you had your own political agenda when you approached the microphone."

In other words, I'm a Bush backer.

But tell that to the reader unhappy with a recent story I did about the 14th Amendment. He said my sources had overlooked an argument that the measure should bar John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, from serving in the Senate due to his anti-war efforts in the Vietnam Era.

Other reporters had missed that point, too, he said. "All such writers have been liberal Democrats as I have to assume that you are as well."

A more constructive approach came from Pakistan, of all places, where an online reader said Rather's call for a media "spine transplant" was inadequate.

"American media needs a complete brain transplant," that writer said.

Then he ended his note nicely -- "with most cordial regards."

See? Nothing personal.