Many years ago, Mike Wallace of CBS News’ “60 Minutes” pioneered the ambush interview, where he would track down the targets of his investigative pieces on the street or in their driveway and demand answers for whatever the perfidy of the week was. “I’m a reporter; you can’t subpoena people to talk to you,” he once said. “If you write to them and try to call them on the phone and they don’t answer and so forth, then take them unawares.”
According to the U.K. Independent, he later would later minimize the ambush interview’s role in his journalism, saying that “it began to look as if we were actors, a caricature of ourselves.”
“Indeed, some accused Wallace of practicing a celebrity journalism where the question was more important than the answer,” The Independent’s Rupert Cornwell wrote in the 2012 piece, written shortly after the newsman’s death.
Wallace may be gone, but the investigative tactic isn’t. And, like most sorts of celebrity journalism, it’s gotten even more tawdry as time has gone on, to the point where we’re accosting Robert Mueller and his wife outside his church in the wake of Easter Sunday services.
MSNBC correspondent Mike Viqueira insisted, however, he was “trying to be as respectful as possible.”
Here’s the video, which seems to indicate otherwise:
MSNBC just sent a “journalist” out to stake out and harass Robert Mueller when he was leaving church on Easter Sunday.
“We tried to be as respectful as possible” is an actual thing Mike Viqueira said after airing the clip… pic.twitter.com/JdfV6LsA8L
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) April 21, 2019
“We knew he was going to be there, he’s been there in the past, so we waited for him, Easter services, tried to be as respectful as possible,” Viqueira said.
He had a few questions for Mueller, who seemed nonplussed and as if he didn’t welcome the intrusion for reasons I’m sure none of us can fathom.
Among the prepared questions were whether or not he would testify, whether Trump would have been indicted were he not president and whether Attorney General William Barr managed to characterize his findings in the report accurately.
At the beginning of this ghastly dance, Mueller says clearly and with some force: “I have no comment.”
“Are you sure about that, sir?” Viqueira responded.
So, what was the reporter’s takeaway after this encounter?
“I think we can characterize Director Mueller’s attitude as tight-lipped and perhaps not interested in talking to me,” Viqueira — apparently the secret identity of superhero Captain Obvious — said.
“It was, after all, Easter Sunday and he was, after all, coming out of Easter services. But nevertheless, that’s the first time we have heard from Bob Mueller in quite some time, even if his only comment was no comment.”
In other words, Mueller was being treated a little like the Punxsutawney Phil of the Russia investigation. Oh, look, everyone — he saw his shadow and ducked back into his SUV! That means six more weeks of speculation.
But this wasn’t Groundhog Day, it was Easter — the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, not Bill Murray’s. This is a somewhat more solemn affair and a time and place where reporters outside, waiting to stalk a famous worshipper, is beyond unseemly.
Even then, it’s worth noting that only one of the three questions — whether he could appear before Congress — is something he could have answered in a sound bite (if he could have answered the others at all, given the situation).
Much like Mike Wallace’s ambush interviews from back in the day, it was all about the questions, not the answer. They just needed to harangue Robert Mueller to make it newsworthy. I’ve never had an overabundance of sympathy for the special counsel, but I certainly did on Easter Sunday — all thanks to MSNBC, who thought that outside a place of worship on the holiest day of the Christian calendar was the best time to set upon him.
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