In a Rose Garden speech earlier today President Obama announced the very sensible reversal of long-standing American policy. People who entered the United States illegally when they were under 16, who’ve lived in the country for more than five years and are under 30, will no longer be deported. Rather, they’ll be granted work permits and, presumably, a way to citizenship, formalizing what they already do: attend college, hold jobs, pay taxes, serve in the military, keep this country vibrant and true to its heritage. The policy directive mirrors the Dream Act, held hostage to congressional demagogues for years. Obama’s breakthrough doesn’t trump congressional prerogative. Human rights trump gridlock. Congress can sort out the details while human beings are no longer unjustly deported. If Obama is buying votes in an election year, there are cheaper, much less politically risky ways to do it.
The decision is worth debating—if there was room for that debate. It’s not just Congress that’s refused. Obama’s announcement was itself hijacked by a reporter who, five minutes through Obama’s 9-minute speech, heckled the president. That story, on the strength of a single reporter’s crass act, is now more fatly headlined than the immigration breakthrough.
The reporter is Neil Munro, who works for the Daily Caller, a legitimate, D.C.-based online news and commentary website created by Tucker Carlson, the columnist and former co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, where interruptions were part of the show’s gimmickry. That the Daily Caller is conservative is irrelevant. It has a reputation for being aggressive. Its readership is broad. Its legitimacy unquestioned. That’s not at issue in today’s incident.
Munro’s method, and Carlson’s justifications for what Munro did, are at issue and ought to be.
The Rose Garden announcement was an Obama speech, not a press conference. He might have taken questions at the end. He might not. When presidents deliver speeches—or governors or county commissioners or aunt Hilda’s great-uncle at a bar mitzvah for that matter—interruptions are not acceptable. Heckling, an accurate description of what happened today, even less so. Not even if the president being interrupted is Richard Nixon (which he never was during a speech, even in his decomposing phase in the summer of 1974. When Dan Rather had his famous exchange with Nixon at a broadcaster’s conference that March, it was during the Q&A phase, and the exchange was prompted by applause from the audience when Rather rose, and by a snide jab of Nixon’s own).
Munro was not a reporter at that moment. He was a heckler, even though his question—“Mr. President, why do you favor foreign workers over Americans?”—while clearly baiting and tendentious, was legitimate. As is ridiculing, lampooning, lambasting, bitching out or even calling the president a liar, but in the proper context. Shouting it out during a State of the Union address, as Joe Wilson, the degraded South Carolina congressman, did three years ago, is adding insult to grandstanding. The attack on the president is of much less consequence than the attack on the office, on the moment, on the process, of which Wilson is allegedly a part: the insult was as much on himself as it was on republican principles (note the small ‘r,’ please.)
So it was with Munro. He wasn’t asking a question. He was grandstanding, insultingly and purposely, and mostly for the attention it would trigger, effectively derailing the moment. He succeeded. Carlson’s defense added to the ploy. In fairness to Carlson, who was traveling on a plane when questioned about the incident, he hadn’t seen the speech. He was reacting to what he was being told. He came to his reporter’s defense. But he did it badly. He’s not a fool. He knows the difference between heckling and asking questions. He’s been to innumerable speeches and news conferences. He also knows the buttons to push to frame the debate his way, on the sympathies of uncritical audiences who’ll only hear the Woodward-and-Bernstein spin of Carlson’s explanation, not its Joe Wilson boorishness: “He was doing what reporters are supposed to do — get their questions answered,” Carlson told Politico. “Presidents come out and they expect the press to act as stenographers — dutifully take down their every word and they retreat back into the White House. It’s very frustrating that they sit there every day and act … as politicians’ stenographer.”
The press, the right-wing and left-wing press both, did exactly what Carlson was describing from 2001 to 2003 and beyond, when—in press conference after press conference, and with Carlson in the amen corner—President Bush’s giant follies in Afghanistan and Iraq were indulged by reporters who’d abdicated their responsibilities in the name of the White House’s version of vote-buying, which back then took the form of patriotic pandering.
So Carlson is right. But he’s also being deceptive. Carlson is not only conflating method and circumstance, and hoping the public doesn’t notice. He’s slurring journalism by equating means and ends, by erasing the difference between method and propriety. No one is asking his reporter not to ask the tough questions, to be a ball-buster if necessary. Politicians and their handlers are asses by nature: it takes being an ass to crack the slime and get at the slivers of truth they’re occasionally capable of. But that’s what one-on-one interviews are for, or even news conferences, however phony and controlled those tend to be. Munro isn’t for that sort of grub. So he goes for a rhetorical Molotov cocktail.
And Carlson fuels it up, with superb effect. An “illegal” immigrant would have behaved more honorably.
Friday, June 15, 2012, Rose Garden, 2:09 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. This morning, Secretary Napolitano announced new actions my administration will take to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient, and more just — specifically for certain young people sometimes called “Dreamers.”
These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents — sometimes even as infants — and often have no idea that they’re undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver’s license, or a college scholarship.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life — studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class — only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.
That’s what gave rise to the DREAM Act. It says that if your parents brought you here as a child, if you’ve been here for five years, and you’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, you can one day earn your citizenship. And I have said time and time and time again to Congress that, send me the DREAM Act, put it on my desk, and I will sign it right away.
Now, both parties wrote this legislation. And a year and a half ago, Democrats passed the DREAM Act in the House, but Republicans walked away from it. It got 55 votes in the Senate, but Republicans blocked it. The bill hasn’t really changed. The need hasn’t changed. It’s still the right thing to do. The only thing that has changed, apparently, was the politics.
As I said in my speech on the economy yesterday, it makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans — they’ve been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country — to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents — or because of the inaction of politicians.
In the absence of any immigration action from Congress to fix our broken immigration system, what we’ve tried to do is focus our immigration enforcement resources in the right places. So we prioritized border security, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history — today, there are fewer illegal crossings than at any time in the past 40 years. We focused and used discretion about whom to prosecute, focusing on criminals who endanger our communities rather than students who are earning their education. And today, deportation of criminals is up 80 percent. We’ve improved on that discretion carefully and thoughtfully. Well, today, we’re improving it again.
Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.
Now, let’s be clear — this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is —
THE PRESIDENT: — the right thing to do.
Q — foreigners over American workers.
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, sir. It’s not time for questions, sir.
Q No, you have to take questions.
THE PRESIDENT: Not while I’m speaking.
Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act. There is still time for Congress to pass the DREAM Act this year, because these kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two-year increments. And we still need to pass comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our 21st century economic and security needs — reform that gives our farmers and ranchers certainty about the workers that they’ll have. Reform that gives our science and technology sectors certainty that the young people who come here to earn their PhDs won’t be forced to leave and start new businesses in other countries. Reform that continues to improve our border security, and lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
Just six years ago, the unlikely trio of John McCain, Ted Kennedy and President Bush came together to champion this kind of reform. And I was proud to join 23 Republicans in voting for it. So there’s no reason that we can’t come together and get this done.
And as long as I’m President, I will not give up on this issue, not only because it’s the right thing to do for our economy — and CEOs agree with me — not just because it’s the right thing to do for our security, but because it’s the right thing to do, period. And I believe that, eventually, enough Republicans in Congress will come around to that view as well.
And I believe that it’s the right thing to do because I’ve been with groups of young people who work so hard and speak with so much heart about what’s best in America, even though I knew some of them must have lived under the fear of deportation. I know some have come forward, at great risks to themselves and their futures, in hopes it would spur the rest of us to live up to our own most cherished values. And I’ve seen the stories of Americans in schools and churches and communities across the country who stood up for them and rallied behind them, and pushed us to give them a better path and freedom from fear –because we are a better nation than one that expels innocent young kids.
And the answer to your question, sir — and the next time I’d prefer you let me finish my statements before you ask that question — is this is the right thing to do for the American people —
THE PRESIDENT: I didn’t ask for an argument. I’m answering your question.
Q I’d like to —
THE PRESIDENT: It is the right thing to do —
THE PRESIDENT: — for the American people. And here’s why —
Q — unemployment —
THE PRESIDENT: Here’s the reason: because these young people are going to make extraordinary contributions, and are already making contributions to our society.
I’ve got a young person who is serving in our military, protecting us and our freedom. The notion that in some ways we would treat them as expendable makes no sense. If there is a young person here who has grown up here and wants to contribute to this society, wants to maybe start a business that will create jobs for other folks who are looking for work, that’s the right thing to do. Giving certainty to our farmers and our ranchers; making sure that in addition to border security, we’re creating a comprehensive framework for legal immigration — these are all the right things to do.
We have always drawn strength from being a nation of immigrants, as well as a nation of laws, and that’s going to continue. And my hope is that Congress recognizes that and gets behind this effort.
All right. Thank you very much.
Q What about American workers who are unemployed while you import foreigners?
2:17 P.M. EDT