Friday, December 23, 2011

Bullying by Another Name

There aren't too many occasions for profanity-laced tirades with press staff on the foreign affairs beat (thank goodness), but I still get my hackles up reading this WaPo story about the verbal abuse the White House press shop metes out to reporters for stories it doesn't like.

I've never understood this practice. As far as I'm concerned, screaming and cursing at people by phone or e-mail is unprofessional, unproductive and just plain rude. Arguing that this is "how it's always been done," as White House spox Jay Carney seems to imply in the WaPo piece, is no excuse. When you are in a professional setting, discussing the way people are handling their professional duties, there are plenty of ways to hash out disagreements or correct potential errors without resorting to name calling, f-bombs and threats. It isn't a question of whether the White House press corp can "take it," it's a question of whether that approach is the best way to improve the journalism. I doubt it.

I was shocked starting out as a young 20-something reporter in Washington that this was how middle-aged press flacks sought to handle their business. It struck me as entirely juvenile.

I haven't changed my opinion since then, but I've also learned that more than that, it's a strategy to brow-beat and intimidate reporters who portray these flacks' bosses in an unfavorable light. Young press aides pick up these tactics from their seniors, and the cycle churns on. That shouldn't make it accepted practice.

After all, wasn't is President Obama who called for an "adult conversation" in Washington?

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