I have participated in press conferences in the past, as a member of Montana Wilderness Association and when campaigning for Nader. It’s been many a year, and I have better insight now. Such affairs were, for me, an ego trip, to see my face on TV and hear my name. Beyond that, I was merely a tool, especially for MWA – I was given a script, at that time by John Gatchell, and adhered to it. That’s not a good thing, but is where I was at intellectually at that time. It would have been more honest if Gatchell had done the thing himself, but MWA liked to foster a grassroots feel, and so used civilians to front for the professional staff. That was my role.
I do have one reflection of value from those experiences. We had a dog that I used to walk daily, and each time we passed a certain fenced yard she would bare her teeth and bark viciously at the dog on the other side. She was menacing. Panda (her name when we got her) was one mean bitch.
However, if she came face-to-face with the same dog and without a fence, she was docile, merely touching nose and sniffing butt.
The reporters who covered our press conferences back then manifested something similar. Because we were liberal and environmentalists, they were free to ask us any question whether it was confrontational, thoughtful or burrowing. They could actually do their jobs.
I also sat through press conferences these same reporters were part of, but with Senator Conrad Burns at the helm. They were no longer tough, and instead diligently took notes as Burns spoke down to them. Their questions were more obsequious than curious, their mission to deliver Burns’ message to the public. They stopped being journalists and became mere scriveners.
I watched Charlie Rose interview Syrian President Bashar Assad last night, and thought of Panda and the fence. Charlie was actually a journalist of sorts, pushy, accusatory, unwilling to accept pat answers. He’s not free to be so forceful with other guests, and isn’t. Put him opposite a powerful American, and he becomes a butt sniffer.