Billy Davis editorial

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 15, 2010

Congressman’s ire raised by reporter’s question

From Tuesday, October 12 edition

Democrat Congressman Travis Childers is set to debate Republican Alan Nunnelee today, at 5 p.m., in a debate on the Ole Miss campus.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The two men, locked in a neck-and-neck race, are set to take questions from reporters. But I won’t be among them. That’s because this reporter has been dis-invited by the Childers campaign to participate.

I was set to be at the Overby Center with my questions, because I had asked Ole Miss to be there, like I was two years ago, when Childers debated another Republican, Greg Davis. But this time I was bumped off the list, when the Childers camp heard my name among the list of questioners.

What so rankled Congressman Childers is a question-and-answer story that appeared in The Panolian on August 7, 2009.

At the time, the U.S. Congress was debating the mammoth, 1,017-page healthcare bill. The premise of the story was summed up with this sentence: specifics about what the bill would do ­ and not do­ to patients, doctors and the insurance industry has become a heated topic.

The story then went on to describe some of the ongoing debate at the time: would it eliminate private health insurance, or force business owners to purchase insurance for employees? Is the bill, as Republicans were claiming, a slippery slope to knock off Grandma?

Congressman Childers had said he would vote against the bill, citing its multi-billion dollar cost.

But at the time I was interested in the content, not the cost. I wanted answers from my own congressman about what really was ­ and was not ­ in the landmark legislation, since there was where the debate was raging at the time.

When I asked Childers to cite any “misinformation” put out by Republicans that “deserves to be refuted,” he said, “I’m not going to address those.”

I asked about reports that the bill included a $2,500 penalty for not buying health insurance.

A private citizen, at a town hall meeting in Maryland, had asked his congressman if it was true. Childers said testily, “I could care less what somebody said in Maryland.”

 My reply was, “What I’m asking is if that’s untrue, why not get the word out-”

But he cut me off.

“All anyone has to do is pull the bill and look at it,” he said, angrily. “You know better than some of those things and you shouldn’t be trying to publish stuff like that.”

The interview had driven off a hundred-foot cliff, a clear car wreck. You could hear the tires screeching. Metal ripping. Glass breaking. It was an awful interview. But it wasn’t my fault.

 I’ve re-read the interview several times since last week, scrutinizing my questions and where they took us. All I can figure is that Childers was prepared to talk about the cost, not the content, of the healthcare bill. I guess he expected to just read a press release over the phone and be done.

A better-prepared incumbent, instead of perceiving fear mongering, would have grasped the fears and concerns being raised in the 1st District.

Instead he told us to stop listening to those bad Republicans.

So I would do it the same way again. I would press my congressman, again, to describe what was buried in this controversial legislation that he himself was set to vote against.

Sometimes I rankle people: county supervisors, aldermen, mayors and sheriffs. Some stories please them because they look good, and sometimes they grit their teeth because they look bad. But I believe they know, to the person, that I’m fair with them and try to do this job as best I can.

Maybe Congressman Childers forgot for a moment that everybody, even a reporter, has a job to do. He decided, wrongly, that he was going to tell me how to do mine. It took 14 months of gritted teeth, but the congressman found a way to get back at the reporter who made him look bad.

Check mate on me, Congressman. Good luck in the debate.