Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) called a CNN reporter a “liberal hack.” This is very bad, I am told.
When asked by Manu Raju on Thursday whether the upper chamber should “consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial,” an exasperated McSally replied, “Manu, you’re a liberal hack. I’m not talking to you.” Footage of the exchange, which occurred in the hallway of a Senate building, was aired on CNN.
To be clear, Raju’s question was legitimate and he had every right to ask it. I’m glad he did. The press exists to hold lawmakers like McSally to account, confronting them with the questions they don’t want to answer. That said, McSally’s dig was both hilarious and deeply satisfying. More importantly, it just wasn’t all that outrageous.
As far as I can tell, her major crime was daring to insult a reporter who happens to be well-liked by his peers.
If you think Republican lawmakers get a fair shake from the Washington press corps, you’re probably hopelessly delusional. If you can at least accept the premise they do not, as most fair-minded people should be able to do, we can agree McSally is entitled to a moment of frustration.
While Beltway journalists rushed to uphold his credibility (and he seems like a nice enough guy!), Raju’s record of fairness isn’t exactly sterling. Consider the examples here and here and here and especially here. That isn’t even to address the problems with his network, which I could not find a way to condense into a single sentence.
All of this is to say the outpouring of criticism for McSally, offered eagerly by the coterie of Very Serious journalists on Twitter, has been predictably obtuse and disproportionate. It was as if every member of the mainstream media felt he had a personal duty to defend the press against the notoriously dangerous Martha McSally. Erik Wemple called the incident “chilling.”
A verbal attack that is 1. False and 2. Unwarranted. Totally fair Q. https://t.co/BmNElqsVBF
— Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) January 16, 2020
I don’t even know @mkraju personally, but I see every day how hard he works. You’re seeing so many reporters express outrage over his shabby treatment by Sen. MCSally because the dude is just universally respected and embodies hustle as he hunts the halls on the Hill.
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) January 16, 2020
#McSally, who calls an excellent journalist, @mkraju, a “liberal hack” & tweets the video because she has decided better “Trumpian” than truthful & tactful to win a contested Senate race. https://t.co/6TyHIiqmVW
— Maya Wiley (@mayawiley) January 16, 2020
— Paul Farhi (@farhip) January 16, 2020
Instead of answering a serious question about impeachment, Republican Senator Martha McSally calls Manu Raju “a liberal hack.”
If the law is on your side, pound the law.
If the facts are on your side, pound the facts.
If neither is on your side, pound the reporter? https://t.co/18R9vmoiAJ
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) January 16, 2020
Apparently daring to ask a straightforward question of a senator makes a reporter a "liberal hack." https://t.co/ju4kKw72en
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) January 16, 2020
.@mkraju of @cnn: “Senator McSally, should the Senate consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial?”
@SenMcSallyAZ: “You’re a liberal hack. I’m not talking to you.”
Really? A reporter’s “a liberal hack” for asking a fair question? https://t.co/J1iuIrgPkQ
— EJ Dionne (@EJDionne) January 16, 2020
Apparently to Senator McSally,
Liberal hack= someone who considers new evidence in a trial.
Or worse yet, someone who asks if she’ll consider it.
At least we know this won’t be a partisan affair with a preordained result. https://t.co/Cr0GoMFBEk
— Bryan Behar (@bryanbehar) January 16, 2020
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) January 16, 2020
McSally didn't do this for the people she represents. She did this to get Trump's attention and to own some libs.
Truly disgusting behavior.
— Jessica Huseman (@JessicaHuseman) January 16, 2020
My God — what happened to the Martha McSally we knew? https://t.co/kOT5gbpkn2
— Tim Steller (@senyorreporter) January 16, 2020
Josh Rogin of the Washington Post claimed the moment constituted an “insult” to Sen. John McCain’s legacy. As the Post itself reported in the wake of McCain’s passing, his “dyspeptic side was occasionally aimed at reporters.” In fact, those occasional digs were a legendary part of McCain’s savvy relationship with the media. McSally doesn’t share that same rare dynamic with the fourth-estate, but that doesn’t make Rogin’s point more valid.
This is an insult to the ideals and integrity of the Senate seat she inherited from John McCain. https://t.co/slxbk7p8Qz
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) January 16, 2020
The bulk of media coverage is not fair to Republicans. Raju has not always been fair to Republicans. McSally vented. Save your tweets for more interesting things, like #AppreciateADragonDay.
If McSally had a habit out of dismissing perfectly legitimate stories or reporters as “fake news,” and the “liberal hack” dig was part of an unfair broader trend, that might warrant concern. But she’s just a moderate Republican senator who believes this particular reporter is a “liberal hack.” Even by pre-Trump standards, that’s neither abnormal nor unreasonable. Treating it as both is silly.
The vast majority of voters are offline, and won’t notice this back-and-forth between McSally and the press. But it’s in moments like these where journalists display tendencies like insularity and self-importance that actually do affect their credibility when the circumstances matter more.
Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in Arizona, and only 32 percent of Republicans find CNN “credible.” A good chunk of McSally’s constituents would probably have a different reaction to the dust-up than Beltway Twitter. That’s why she doubled down and fundraised off of it. Those voters don’t actually have many voices in Congress willing to publicly confront members of the press face-to-face. To the extent McSally’s insult matters at all, it’s probably that.
Plus, the more sanctimonious criticism McSally receives from the media, the more easy it is for her to fundraise off the incident, fueling the anti-media sentiments that make so many members of the press anxious. Besides being disproportionate, it’s not even practical to attack her. The salient question to ask would actually be, “Why do people distrust us so much that a senator is able to fundraise off this?”
Was McSally’s barb polite? Not at all. But you may remember that Washington Republicans’ deferential politeness to people who don’t deserve it was something of a factor in the 2016 primary race. If anything, Washington politicians are too friendly with the media.
Maybe there’s some middle ground between “hack” and “no comment” McSally could have found in the moment. I honestly just don’t care enough to think about it, and neither should you.