Friday, October 31st, 2014

In Context: That testy Paul Ryan interview

Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan campaigns in Oak Creek, Wis.
Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan campaigns in Oak Creek, Wis.

"In Context" is an occasional  feature of PolitiFact Wisconsin. It is intended to give readers the context of a statement that has received widespread attention.

Less than a week after Vice President Joe Biden created political buzz with a remark about how the middle class had been "buried the last four years," Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan made some buzz of his own.

After a Ryan aide abruptly ended Ryan’s Oct. 8, 2012 interview with a Michigan TV reporter, more than two dozen people posted excerpts on YouTube.

Depending on who did the posting, the headlines describing the actions of the Republican vice-presidential candidate varied dramatically:

"Ryan walks out on local reporter for pressing him on taxes"

"Ryan gets testy and ends interview"

"Paul Ryan calmly ends interview after reporter propagates leftist talking points"

"Paul Ryan slaps down liberal reporter in Michigan"

So what was the exchange between Ryan, who’s also running for re-election to his Wisconsin congressional seat, and Terry Camp, a reporter for WJRT in Flint, Mich.?

We watched various versions of the interview. Camp introduced his report by saying the interview "did not end well."

Here’s the ending.

Reporter: "Does the country have a gun problem?"

Ryan: "This country has a crime problem."

Reporter: "Not a gun problem."

Ryan: "No. I mean if you take a look at the gun laws we have, I don’t even think President Obama is proposing more gun laws. We have good, strong gun laws, but we have to make sure we enforce our laws. We have lots of laws that aren’t being properly enforced. We need to make sure we enforce these laws.

"But the best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity in the inner cities, is to help people get out of poverty in the inner cities, is to help teach people good discipline, good character. That is civil society. That’s what charities and civic groups and churches do to help one another make sure that they can realize the value in one another."

Reporter: "And you can do that all by cutting taxes? With a big tax cut?"

Ryan: "Those are your words, not mine."

At that point, the interview comes to an end when a voice off screen says: "Thank you very much, sir."

Politico identified that person as Ryan spokesman Michael Steel.

The camera continued running, however, and a brief exchange is heard as Ryan takes off his microphone and stands.

Ryan: "That was kind of strange; you’re trying to stuff words in people’s mouths."

Reporter: "Well, I don’t know if that’s strange."

A few footnotes:

Ryan’s campaign issued a statement to Buzzfeed, a website that was credited with being first to post the video: "The reporter knew he was already well over the allotted time for the interview when he decided to ask a weird question relating gun violence to tax cuts. Ryan responded as anyone would in such a strange situation. When you do nearly 200 interviews in a couple months, eventually you’re going to see a local reporter embarrass himself."

WJRT news director Jayne Hodak told Washington Post news media blogger Eric Wemple that her reporter "in no way was trying to make a political comment. He said he was just asking a question." She also said the interview had exceeded its allotted time.

The day after the interview, the homepage of WJRT’s web site promoted its interview with Ryan, but the version that was posted did not include the final exchange.