A heckler at the White House

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 18, 2012 - 2:55 PM

He ill-served his new media colleagues.

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Neil Munro, center, a reporter with the online publication The Daily Caller, who interrupted President Barack Obama as he delivered remarks, leaves the White House in Washington, D.C., Friday, June 15, 2012.

Photo: Olivier Douliery, MCT

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As publicity stunts go, it’s hard to top the disrespectful, decorum-breaching outburst during a presidential press conference last week by a writer for an underwhelming conservative website.

Tweets started flying soon after Neil Munro of the Daily Caller web site repeatedly interrupted President Obama’s statement on a new immigration policy. Journalists have been weighing in since then on whether Munro was being an aggressive reporter or just plain rude.

“Obama’s Daily Caller Heckler Is a Jerk, Not a Journalist,’’ opined Susan Milligan in her U.S. News and World Report blog.

Conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt tackled the topic, too, with on-air commentary making clear that Munro was out of line to disrespect the office of president, whatever he may think of its current occupant.

It was, all the same, great publicity for Munro and his alternative media web site. And that was likely the point. South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson rose from obscurity to household name a few years ago when he shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during an address to Congress.

Munro is benefitting from the same national tut-tutting over offensive behavior taken to a new level. Hard to believe it wasn’t calculated.

But what’s good for Munro and the Daily Caller could well be a setback for alternative media, and that’s a shame. Who gets press credentials and who doesn’t has become a source of controversy in Minnesota and elsewhere as bloggers and new web sites contribute to coverage provided by traditional news organizations.

Sometimes that can lead to tension when access to news events or resources such as media office space at the state capitol are limited. Alternative media sometimes get short shrift because they’re newcomers or because they don’t have big readership — at least, not yet.

That’s not right. The Fourth Estate benefits from bigger membership, not selective membership.

That Munro was at the White House press conference, albeit on a temporary press pass, is progress.

It suggests that even top-level officials are acknowledging new media’s role and making room for its reporters at press conferences and other events.

The risk in Munro’s partisan, web-traffic-driving stunt is that it may reinforce lingering but (generally) misplaced skepticism about the professionalism of reporters from lesser-known news outlets. They already fight the battle of  having to explain who they report for. Now they’ve got Munro’s boorish example hanging over them as they push for the same credentials and access as traditional media.

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Jill Burcum is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.
 

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  • President Barack Obama responds after being interrupted while making remarks about the Department of Homeland Security's recent announcement about deportation of illegal immigrants in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, D.C., Friday, June 15, 2012.

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