This 9News interview of Governor Hickenlooper (CO) is likely to excite a lot of commentary and speculation (and already has begun to), especially under the circumstances. I think it’s important to view it in context: Hickenlooper’s friend and cabinet member was just murdered by, as it turns out, the son of an old friend of his, a lousy and emotionally trying situation for any person to be in, and especially an elected official.
As a public official, microphones are in his face constantly, every word and reaction scrutinized. He has, in general, learned to do what all successful politicians learn to do: Parse words, censor himself to a far greater extent than most have to, and restrain his reactions. Under the personal and public stress of this high profile murder of a friend by the son of another friend, knowing that this is exactly the kind of tantalizing scenario that the press and the public both salivate over, he was asked repeatedly (despite a complete lack of any evidence to suggest any involvement) whether he had anything to hide, something that would offend most people to some extent, though, as a politician, he’s expected to be accustomed to this and not to show his annoyance. Instead, he had a quintessentially human moment, and simply expressed his exasperation. It’s not evidence of malfeasance, but rather of having had his endurance worn down by events, and having let the mask of perfect political restraint slip for a moment.
People claim they want their politicans to act more like regular human beings, but never tolerate it when they do.
But I think the outrage toward Jace Larson (the journalist asking the questions) is exaggerated as well. While I consider the governor’s reaction perfectly acceptable, and HIS outrage perfectly justified, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us should turn this into yet another pile-on, with yet another sacrificial victim. In an orgy of human folly, some (mostly because of ideological predisposition) want to pile-on the governor, and others (also mostly because of ideological predisposition) want to pile on the journalist. I suggest that there is no need to pile on anyone here.
Yes, this is not my ideal of journalism. Yes, I wish we, including via our journalists, focused more on the subtleties of complex policy issues and less on tantalizing innuendo. BUT, journalism is a market-driven enterprise, and the market demands a certain degree of this. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t encourage and attempt to reward those news agencies that resist these market pressures and raise the level of our discourse another few notches, BUT to act as though a journalist who annoyed a sitting governor by asking an unnecessarily provocative question repeatedly violated the norms and values of his profession would be to give too much credit to the profession of journalism as it is currently constituted, and too little empathy to the difficulty of being a professional journalist in a market that expects persistent interrogation from reporters, even over non-issues that are legitimately offensive to the subject of the interview.
My suggestion to everyone is to let it to go, and to encourage others to do the same. This is not a public policy issue. This is not a scandal, neither in the governor’s office nor in 9News’s office. To those who try to turn the governor’s response into a pretext for fomenting innuendo about his imaginary involvement, shoot them down sharply and incisively. To those who try to turn journalism’s general failings into a pretext for crying for the blood of this unfortunate young broadcast journalist, do the same.