CBS White House correspondent Major Garrett is a famously tough questioner in the White House press pool. And not just to Donald Trump but to prior administrations as well. He's a serious journalist who is taken seriously by his colleagues. And he isn't enamored of the antics by CNN's Jim Acosta, who recently lost and regained his credentials following a performance and kerfuffle that resulted in a lawsuit.
Garrett was on this week with Larry O'Connor, WMAL-DC talk radio's drive time host, and the two talked about the Acosta phenomenon and flap.
"I don't critique other journalists in the way they ask and seek answers to their questions. I do my work, I've done it for lots of different organizations as you well know," said Garrett, adding that "this is uncomfortable territory for me all the way around."
Garrett was supportive of Acosta's right to ask questions the way he wants, and of the lawsuit to return his credentials.
However, O'Connor asked, "taking Jim Acosta out of it, would you agree, Major Garrett, that there is a standard of conduct, there is an expected behavior from a White House correspondent that I think each, all of you would agree upon, right?"
"There is, no question about it," said Garrett. "It's the most majestic political place in America. The White House."
"It can be rough and tamble at times in the White House but it is a place of institutional heft and commands institutional respect," he said. He then related a story of his own experience.
"And I will say on my behalf, the previous press conference we had with President Trump in the Rose Garden. The president looked at me, I thought he called on me, I stood up, the White House aide handed me the microphone, I began to speak to the President of the United States, President Trump looked at me and said 'no, behind you, Kaitlan.' Kaitlan with CNN, Kaitlan Collins."
"So I said 'oh', and what did I do? I handed back the microphone," he said. "Now some of my colleagues might say 'what'd you do that for? You had the microphone, you have a voice, you can speak.'--The President of the United States said 'not you'. To my way of thinking, that's enough. The President said I didn't call on you I called on somebody else. Alright then. And I didn't get a question that press conference."
"Some might say, 'you laid down, and you were too deferential', I don't feel that way," he continued. "I stood up the President said I don't mean you, I mean another one of your colleagues, so I deferred, hoping he might call on me again. He didn't. That's how I orient myself to the institution."
"The person who occupies that institution is chosen by the country, and I respect the institution and the country's choice."
Major Garret then made what is absolutely the most salient and important point about Jim Acosta's theatrics, and it's one that both the right and left continue to miss in the back and forth over Acosta.
Garrett said "I'm there, to on behalf of everyone, ask questions and, most importantly Larry, get answers. That's the whole most important part of this transaction--if you're not getting answers then I think there's part of the job that's not reaching its fullest capability on, in striving to accomplish its main goal, which is to get answers."
That is exactly right. It's not just the people who have to watch Acosta's theatrics who are losing, it's his own network, his profession, adn the people who deserve a press corps that is actually trying to get somewhere with the time they have in front of those who run the country. The press are representative of the people's right to know. Instead of representing that need, Acosta represents himself first, and talking points from the left second, and if ever he asked a question that wasn't a rhetorical attempt to merely bash Trump and advance a particular political philosophy of his own --- well I haven't seen it.
“I do my level best to not make myself part of story," said Major Garrett. "And I think the best journalists operate that way.”
Garrett was very careful not to make it about his colleague, which is not only wise, but probably represents his true feeling of respect for his fellow reporters. But that doesn't mean he isn't entitled to express his idea of how a press corps should operate, how a briefing should work. Which he does admirably in this excellent interview, embedded above.