Note the snippy question from a Biden staffer at the end of the clip: "Who are you with?" (For what it's worth, I was asked a similar question by Debbie Wasserman Schultz's handlers after this exchange). Mattera replies truthfully. A few days later, retribution is in the air:
Jason Mattera, who works for Human Events, a conservative magazine, used a pretext to catch Biden off guard in a Senate hallway and grill him on claims the vice president has made about jobs legislation. Biden’s office has also contacted the standing committee of correspondents, which oversees the gallery, regarding whether Mattera broke the rules by ambushing him. Heather Rothman, the chairwoman of the gallery’s standing committee, said the matter is under review. “We’re aware of the concerns,” said Rothman, a reporter for BNA. “It’s being discussed. We’re aware this occurred and the vice president’s office [has made] contact,” she added, noting the standing committee itself hasn’t met to deliberate the issue.
So distressed was poor Slow Joe over being asked an uncomfortable question about his own appalling rhetoric that his office is seeking to punish the inquisitor. Mattera explains his motives and tactics:
Biden’s visible irritation might be explained by how he was lured into the short interview. As the vice president left the Russell caucus room, Mattera weaved his way through the entourage, shook Biden’s hand and asked him to pose for a photo. While shaking Biden’s hand, Mattera asked him if he felt “regret using a rape reference to describe Republican opposition to the president’s bill.”
Mattera admits to using a pretext to momentarily disarm Biden, but argues his methods were justified. “ABC and CBS have done undercover sting operations and have done them for decades. The fact that a conservative publication goes after a public official who was misrepresenting himself and a Senate bill to the public and tries to get an answer from him, that’s great,” he said in an interview Monday.
“The media should take notice that this is how you ask a question. If I had said, ‘Hey, Mr. Vice President, a question regarding your rape comments,’ he would shrug it off. “He’s not going to take questions hostile to his agenda. I want to get him in that honest moment when he doesn’t have his talking points and isn’t prepared to spin,” Mattera added. Mattera said his technique is “premised on looking to get the most honest reaction from politicians used to conning the media daily — and even their constituents.” He said his request for a photo wasn’t a fabrication because someone had volunteered to snap his picture with the vice president, and noted in a follow-up email that he was wearing his press credentials.
Having been caught in an unflattering moment, Biden hopes to exact revenge for Mattera's supposed sin, based on a technicality. But was he technically out of bounds? Capitol Hill journo-denizen Dave Weigel offers this analysis:
The case [against Mattera] is thin. Mattera was not as up-front as he's been in other videos. As you can clearly see, he gets close to the VP not by asking a question and saying where he's from, but by getting into a photo-op. "Mr. Vice President," he says. "Picture?" Once Mattera's got Biden he starts asking him a well-formulated question: "Do you regret using a rape reference to describe Republican opposition to the jobs bill?" Biden's "don't screw around" comment, which led the stories about this, might be a reference to the tactic. And yeah, the tactic is unfair. Most reporters are anonymous enough that, if they felt like it, they could sidle up to a politician in congressional offices, they could ask them questions without announcing that they were with the press. The answers they'd get might be different than the ones they get after they announce themselves as reporters.
But that's really the only hit on Mattera here. There are rules governing film in the Capitol, but not in the office where this was filmed. There are places where non-journalists and non-staffers can't go, like the Speaker's lobby outside the House, or the halls outside the Senate -- the places where most reporters grab members and senators for quotes. But Mattera was next to reporters in a place where, technically, anyone could go. He ambushed the vice president, but his question could as well have come up at a press conference. And according to people who were there, Mattera did have credentials. (In a hurry, you could mistake a Hill press pass for a tourist badge, but it's a stretch.) Let's rap Mattera gently on the knuckles for pretending he just wanted a photo with Biden, but let's not pretend the question or the setting was unfair to the vice president.
Dave also points out that Biden has -- at least for now -- ceased employing the lurid crime arguments to push the president's jobs bill. Could the Vice President have been chastened by his encounter with Mattera? Might be have been shamed by multiple scathing fact-checks? Who knows. What is clear, though, is that this administration is thin-skinned, petty, controlling, and completely unaccustomed to being asked inconvenient questions in unexpected settings. Like a school yard bully, this White House can't let any taunt go unanswered. Parting thought: This isn't the first time the Obama/Biden crew has moved against media outlets for unfavorable coverage. It's almost as if they're following a certain set of rules, or something:
'Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It and Polarize It.'
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