Ambush Journalism Run Amok

Mike Wallace is credited with pioneering ambush journalism on the 60 Minutes news program, and others have striven to repeat Wallace’s success at that particular genre of journalism.

Alas, modern-day incarnations of ambush journalism don’t always measure up to what Mike Wallace did. Whereas Wallace maintained journalistic boundaries, Wallace wannabes sometimes cross such boundaries.

Take for example the case of Jason Mattera, who recently gained notoriety for his ambush of controversial retired IRS executive Lois Lerner. Unlike reporters, Mattera doesn’t identify himself as working for a news agency whenever he begins ambushing someone. Plus, he is known to enter private property while pursuing his target, a point that Fox News journalist Stuart Varney made while he interviewed Mattera on the Fox News program Your World.

During that interview, Mattera said, “Beat reporters around the country are constantly staking out bureaucrats and trying to hold them accountable for corruption. So what I did is not anything new; it happens every single day.”

Except that beat reporters don’t do what Mattera did. Beat reporters don’t follow people onto private property, don’t start questioning people without first identifying themselves as reporters and don’t berate people.

Here is a transcript of Mattera’s confrontation of Lerner:

MATTERA: Chance to apologize, Ms. Lerner. You didn’t hesitate to target conservatives, yet you’re hesitating to speak. Why? You don’t like being targeted, do you? You targeted conservative groups. Is this an apology? “I’m sorry I used as my position as a government official to try to crack down on political dissent”?

LERNER: I just want you to leave me alone.

MATTERA: Why should we leave you alone?

She’s trying to get in the house. She’s not going to answer questions.

HOMEOWNER: I don’t want her in the house.

MATTERA: I wouldn’t blame you. I wouldn’t blame you. I wouldn’t want her in my house either. It might bring the government after you. Any idea where those missing e-mails are?

Are you going to try another house?

During his interview of Mattera, Stuart Varney suggested that Mattera’s tactic had created sympathy for Lerner. As it turns out, Varney is correct. After a video clip of Mattera’s encounter with Lerner was shown on the Fox News program The Five, Greg Gutfeld responded, “So it takes a special gift to make the least sympathetic bureaucrat on the planet look sympathetic. Seriously, that even made me feel bad for Lerner, and I can’t stand her.”

Setting aside Bob Beckel’s reaction to the aforementioned video clip (which prompted Stuart Varney’s interview of Mattera), none of The Five‘s conservative hosts defended the tactic used by Mattera. Those hosts agreed with the desire to ask Lois Lerner questions but they disagreed with the way that Jason Mattera went about it. As Greg Gutfeld said, “Look, she should be investigated, but you won’t persuade anyone of that by hounding her like a Stuttering John version of Travis Bickel.” As Kimberly Guilfoyle pointed out, Mattera’s tactic takes away from the message.

Granted, some pundits on the right side of the political spectrum are applauding what Mattera did, but what he did didn’t exactly help the general public the way that Mike Wallace’s reporting did.

Then again, perhaps Mattera had different goal – to draw attention to himself. After all, Wallace didn’t have books to sell, but Mattera does.

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Sources:

The Five, October 8, 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/the-five/transcript/2014/10/08/reaction-bill-oreillys-interview-leon-panetta

Your World, October 9, 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/your-world-cavuto/index.html#/v/3830835852001

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