From the Opinion Editor

A message to Sen. Risch, who refused to answer a reporter’s question: Don’t do that again

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, shown in this file photo from January 2015 at a GOP policy meeting in Washington, D.C., refused to answer a reporter's question Wednesday about foreign policy.
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, shown in this file photo from January 2015 at a GOP policy meeting in Washington, D.C., refused to answer a reporter's question Wednesday about foreign policy. AP

Boise State Public Radio reporter Heath Druzin on Wednesday attempted to ask U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, a question about President Donald Trump asking China to investigate Joe Biden, a Democrat running for president.

Apparently, Risch wasn’t happy about the question. Risch interrupted Druzin and wouldn’t even let him finish speaking.

“I’m not going there,” Risch told Druzin. “If you want to have an interview with me on the business center, please do so,” then turned and walked away.

Risch was speaking at a forum Wednesday in Nampa organized by the National Women’s Business Council.

Druzin said he would get to questions about the business center, but said he wanted to ask about foreign policy first.

Risch wasn’t having it, though, walking away and saying, “Don’t do that again,” ostensibly referring to asking a question (which is what reporters do).

Risch is chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so asking about foreign relations is totally germane.

But apparently, Risch’s camp was under the impression that there were “ground rules,” as Risch’s chief of staff John Insinger put it, ostensibly thinking that because the forum was about a business center, a reporter in attendance could speak only about a business center.

That’s not how this works.

Just so we’re all clear, here are the ground rules: Journalists are going to ask our elected representatives questions.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re at a business roundtable, the county fair or a hospital ribbon cutting. You’re on the clock, and we pay your paycheck. You work for us. We’re going to ask you questions that we feel our readers — aka, your constituents, the taxpayers — should know the answers to.

Indeed, social media comments on Druzin’s story are overwhelmingly supportive of his asking what he asked.

Of course, we can’t make you talk. We can’t make you answer the question. You can say “no comment,” you can completely ignore the question. But if you think reporters are not allowed to ask you a question, you’re kidding yourself.

The ironic thing is that Druzin had a list of other questions, including about the business forum, but because Risch cut him off and walked away, Druzin never got a chance to ask those questions.

Risch could have gone down the line of questions, politely saying, “No comment,” “no comment,” “no comment,” until he got to the questions he was willing to answer. Again, we’re not the police; we can’t force anyone to answer our questions.

We’re even being generous here, ignoring for a moment the fact that Risch should be answering Druzin’s questions. And we’re not talking about emailing out one-sentence statements. We’re talking about answering very specific questions from a highly reputable local journalist.

Druzin covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and veterans issues for Stars and Stripes newspaper for nearly seven years, spending most of that time actually in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also covered crime, wildfires and government for the Idaho Statesman from 2005-2008.

So, Sen. Risch, the next time a reporter asks you a question and you think that’s not in the ground rules, think again.

Scott McIntosh is the opinion editor of the Idaho Statesman. You can email him at smcintosh@idahostatesman.com or call him at 208-377-6202. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcIntosh12.
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