To read some of the mean-spirited and thin-skinned accounts of dealing with the retiring Rep. Barney Frank, you'd think that some reporters were writing about the departure of Saddam Hussein. Barney would dress down journalists, tell them their questions were stupid, even make them cry, we are told.
As one reporter who had many conversations and interviews with Frank (and he was direct about it when he didn't like my question), I still have to wonder: how sensitive are some members of the press corps?
Frank made a reporter cry? Seriously? Unless he threw a punch or made an intensely personal and hurtful statement (and no one's accusing him of that), that journalist needs to rethink his or her career path. If you are a grown reporter and a congressman can make you cry, get out. Don't look back. It's professional Darwinism at work. Choose another line of work, because your job as a journalist is to be tough while you're writing about other people and issues. If a congressman makes a constituent or a child cry, well, that's newsworthy. If you're a reporter and he speaks unkindly to you? Suck it up.
The remarkable thing about the flood of confessions of weakness from reporters is that the press itself has gotten increasingly mean. It's good that stories are more likely now to include what we call "color"—how people look, how they are behaving, etc. But that trend in writing has also been used to write truly nasty things about someone's appearance or family life.
How many reporters have endured the scrutiny or amateur psychological analysis we force politicians to undergo? It's not that elected officials don't deserve some of it—you sign up for public life, you have to expect heightened attention. But it's not a license for journalists to expiate their own insecurities by writing something gratuitously rude and judgmental. Frank may have been cranky, even rude at times. But he never ran away from a question—not an uncommon tactic on Capitol Hill—and to my knowledge, never lied to me. That's far more important than having someone be nice to reporters.
Frank had a legitimate point when asked about bringing a reporter to tears: how many of these journalists think about whether a story they've written will make someone cry, or even embarrass someone for no good news reason? There's an element of the press corps that likes to infuse their prose with snarky, snide lines—nothing libelous, or even untrue. But they have an undercurrent of nastiness.
Barney Frank spent decades in public service, and has been a brilliant, hard-working—and yes, irascible—voice on matters ranging from financial regulatory reform to housing. Get mad at him if you don't like his liberalism. But if you just don't like being dressed down a bit, find another arena in which to work.