Sam Nunnberg’s seeming meltdown on TV yesterday raises an interesting question. What is a reporter’s obligation/responsibility when the person you are interviewing live seems off or maybe drunk?
One reporter yesterday asked him the “awkward question,” as she put it, because she thought she smelled alcohol on his breath. He denied he’d been drinking. But he was on a bender of some sort, calling reporter after reporter to announce he was going to ignore the special counsel’s subpoena to the grand jury. By the end of the day, he was telling the Associated Press he likely would comply with the subpoena.
But what should a TV reporter do when he or she is interviewing a subject live and the reporter thinks something is off?
Seems to me if you suspect an interviewee is drunk or high or off in some fashion, you have a responsibility to ask the question. Likely that person would say no. Then the broadcaster has a responsibility, I think, to go to commercial and use the two minutes to talk to her producer about the value of this interviewee’s testimony. And maybe move to taping an interview rather than go live so you can ascertain without the pressure of being live what to do with the interview.
In Nunberg’s case, CNN had him on two shows consecutively. MSNBC took him live as did a local New York channel. Print reporters have the same obligations, seems to me, to decide what to print and what not to. But everyone went with the interview when it was offered, which tells us something about today’s media — that the pressure to compete often outweighs their solid news judgement.
Even someone as bitter as Nunnberg seems to be about having been fired, twice, by Trump during his campaign, normally wouldn’t, on live TV, call a woman a “fat slob” as he referred to the White House press secretary. And he also first leaked part of his subpoena and then gave it to a reporter on the record. Not normally done.
His frantic calling, which reminded me a bit of President Trump’s campaign strategy of getting free media by calling live into news shows, seemed over the top.
Plus, he will testify or likely sit in jail for a long time to think about what he’s doing. He had no information to give that was reliable, no facts on any collusion or wrong doing by the Trump campaign and the special counsel seems more focused on emails Nunnberg may have rather than his testimony — emails the special counsel likely already has.
His association with Roger Stone, the self-admitted dirty trickster of campaigning and Trump friend for decades is troublesome too. Some even said Nunnberg may have been carrying out a Stone dirty trick by doing the interviews.
His testimony likely is not all that key to the investigation since unless he has emails with an evidence of wrong doing in them, he doesn’t seem to offer any proof of anything.
And that’s where the ethics of journalists come into play.