It’s groundbreaking for 70+ Life at the Top to quote a Facebook post, and certainly not as an official commentary, but the time has come. The breakthrough was occasioned by Gabe Pressman, at 91 still the senior correspondent for WNBC-TV New York and by seniority alone one of broadcasting’s best-known and most respected reporters. This is what he had to say, headlined “The Mayor Who Wants to Tell Reporters What Questions He’ll Permit Them to Ask.”
Mayor DeBlasio has tangled with a reporter, Marcia Kramer, over whether she had a right to ask him a question. The mayor who promised to run a “transparent” administration has done the opposite. He insists on setting the agenda for his press conferences. He gives us the topic and then assesses each question. If it’s something he doesn’t want to discuss, he admonishes the reporter to stay “on topic.”
I’ve been covering press conferences at City Hall for 60 years—and never has a mayor had the temerity to enforce an agenda on journalists. This mayor, who proclaims he is a “progressive,” is anything but. The word “retrogressive” might be a better fit.
He needs a lesson in the history of freedom of the press in New York. John Peter Zenger went to jail for criticizing the English governor of New York. That happened 300 years ago and, if it were not for Zenger, the principle of freedom of the press might never have been embedded in our Constitution. Zenger, a half-literate German-born printer, was a true progressive. He would not let himself be bullied by the top government official in New York. And, thanks to a brilliant lawyer and a courageous jury, he was acquitted of wrongdoing.
Any question is fair game for every mayor. Indeed, that principle has suited presidents and governors as well. For a reporter to be guided by any other code would be unprofessional and a betrayal of his obligation to the people.