Originally Published: October 23, 2001 7:15 p.m.
There is something incompatible about televised press conferences for any event and intelligent questions asked by the attendees.
This is not a new phenomenon. It has become obvious to all via the daily televised briefings by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
Supposedly the White House press pool comprises some of the best journalists, from all disciplines (print and electronic), yet a number of these people are clearly unfit to wheel a wheelbarrow, much less write or speak a coherent thought. Bringing all of this home are the idiotic questions asked of Ari Fleischer, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush, as well as Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, and Bob Brenly.
That which follows are questions and comments I heard myself. Friends have reported even more idiotic reportorial questions to me, but they might not be real. So I'll stick with what I heard and saw myself.
The First Amendment issues reporters have raised with Fleischer, Rumsfeld, and the President are eerily similar. They all run along the lines of, "It is the public's right to know how many ground troops we have in Afghanistan, and where they are deployed."
No, it is not anyone's right to know, who does not have a need to know about any military matters that the military wants to keep from the enemy. I saw the idiot who prompted this column challenge Secretary Rumsfeld's refusal to respond to his drooling question about where the 10th Mountain division was moving to and how the Army was going to use its special talents. Mr. Rumsfeld properly replied that he would not acknowledge any troop movements of any kind.
The idiot responded that it was the public's right to know.
Mr. Rumsfeld did not respond and tried to move on to a more rational question. The idiot kept shouting. Finally his colleagues told him, in no uncertain way, to shut up. The idiots are definitely in the minority, but it is troubling to know that their employers allow them near a computer, typewriter or microphone at all.
A rather elaborately gowned woman stood at an Ari Fleischer briefing, stood very carefully I might add, lining herself up to the camera, just so, and asked what the administration was going to do to Osama Bin Laden once it caught him.
Mr. Fleischer very patiently, too patiently by my standards, pointed out that first we had to catch him. The carefully made-up lady, best side forward, said that she would settle for all the options that the administration had in mind for Mr. Bin Laden. Mr. Fleischer went on to the next question.
Clearly therein lies the problem. The reporters who believe that their own presence on camera is more important than the quality of their question. Take the sports reporter who asks Barry Bonds ( for the 345th time), "What went through your mind when you hit, (variously) number 70, 71, 72, and 73?" Or the moron on local television who asked Brenly, I swear this is true…this ditz asked Brenly, "Are you glad you won the division title?" He did, honest, Channel 3. Or the print person, who asked Curt Schilling, "Did you think about your sick son while you were pitching the opener against the Cardinals?"
I remember my own stint as a full-time journalist, five months in Vietnam in 1965, and reporter for The Arizona Gazette, the Prescott Courier, KTAR radio and KTAR TV. I was in Saigon only a total of three days; the rest of the time I was out in the country. I met a lot of other journalists; I was in the field with Paul Dean on a memorable dash to Hue from Da Nang. Paul spent all his time in the field; he scorned the Saigon bar scene as a source of war stories.
Many other journalists never got out of the Saigon bars. I was on a Marine three-day mission, "Black Ferret" by name, that got Dickie Chappell killed. Dickie was the only female war correspondent I met in my brief foray; she was tough and had made it through all of World War II. Peter Jennings was one of the Saigon warriors who stayed in the better hotel bars and interviewed the better class of drunks.
The point is that there were real jerks in the journalist ranks then as now.
You should view all journalists with some skepticism; many are worthy of your attention.
(Sam Steiger, a former congressman and state legislator and current television talk show host, is mayor of Prescott.)