REPORTERS ARE supposed to ask hard questions, whether the setting is a White House news conference or an NFL locker room.

But there is a big difference between asking hard questions and acting like a jerk.

Which brings us to Rob Parker.

Parker is a sports columnist for the Detroit News. Also does an occasional TV gig on an ESPN2 show called "First Take."

He's in the news - and on YouTube - this week for his over-the-line exchange with Lions coach Rod Marinelli following Detroit's 42-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Parker wanted Marinelli to comment on the competence of his defensive coordinator, Joe Barry, which is perfectly understandable considering that the Lions are dead last in the league in just about every pertinent defensive category.

But he decided to make an issue of the fact that Barry also happens to be Marinelli's son-in-law. Asked him if Barry's marriage to his daughter pretty much made him fireproof, which is kind of an odd question to ask a guy who probably is a week away from getting his own walking papers.

This is just me, but if Parker really was interested in the nepotism angle, he probably should have asked the son-in-law question, oh, say, 2 years ago when Marinelli hired him, or last year, after the Lions also finished last in the league in defense.

Anyway, Parker wouldn't let up. "Tell me why he's doing a good job,'' he demanded. When Marinelli, an ex-Marine, gritted his teeth and gave him the ever-popular "It starts with me'' line that we've heard a thousand times from Andy Reid, Parker cut him short and asked: "Why is Joe Barry still employed as defensive coordinator? Why? Give me the reason why.''

"Because I'm in every meeting,'' Marinelli said. "I lead it. I lead the meetings now. I know exactly what I want.''

Responded Parker: "On a light note, seriously, do you wish your daughter would've married a better defensive coordinator?''

Parker wrote the next day that that last comment was an attempt "to lighten the moment in a tense situation.'' Neither Marinelli nor anybody else in the room got the joke.

In fact, Marinelli still was ticked off the next day. Asked about Parker's line of questioning, he said, "I just think any time you attack my daughter, I got a problem with that - in a room of stink [I'm assuming he's referring to the locker room, not the body odor or the assembled journalists] and as a man, and it was premeditated. I think there's something wrong with that, yeah."

So do I. But I've got a hunch that there are a lot of blood-thirsty Andy-must-go Eagles fans who probably don't share my opinion. I've got a hunch that, right now, a lot of them would love to chip in and buy Parker a plane ticket to Philadelphia and have him sit in the front row of Reid's next news conference and harass him the same way he harassed Marinelli.

In case you haven't noticed, Reid isn't very popular in this town, and not just because his football team is about to miss the playoffs for the third time in 4 years or because he thinks running the football went out of style about the same time as leisure suits.

A good deal of the dislike for him centers around the for-me-to-know-and-you-to-find-out attitude the Eagles coach has brought with him to his news conferences for the better part of the last 10 years.

If I had a nickel for every e-mail I've gotten accusing myself and the rest of the local sports literati of being "afraid" to ask Reid tough questions at his news conferences, I'd have enough money to bail out GM.

The problem is, their idea of a tough question is, "Hey, fatso. Your playcalling stinks. When are you going to do us a favor and die?"

Truth is, Reid gets asked the tough questions every week. He just chooses not to answer them, which is certainly his right, just as it is our right to draw our own conclusions when he doesn't answer them. He was asked 10 different ways on Monday to explain why just five of the Eagles' 43 second-half plays against the Redskins were run plays. His most expansive answer: "We probably could've run it a couple more times."

Once upon a time, nobody paid much attention to coaches' news conferences unless somebody was being hired or fired or comparing the feeling of a loss to someone breaking into his home and sodomizing his wife and kids (Ray Rhodes).

That was before Comcast SportsNet. That was before the Internet and video streams and YouTube.

Now, news conferences have become reality shows. People watch them every week the same way they watch "The Hills" and "Flavor of Love." They are looking for action. They are looking for confrontation.

After a loss, they don't want no stinkin' tough questions. They want my Daily News colleague Les Bowen throwing a shoe at Big Red. They want Comcast SportsNet's Derrick Gunn giving him the finger. They want Bob Grotz, of the Delaware County Daily Times, asking him why his wife insists on sitting in on every damn postgame news conference, home and away.

They want Rob Parker or somebody like him stirring the pot and trying to make the coach lose his cool and say something he'll later regret.

Now that's real hard-hitting journalism.

The Parker-Marinelli exchange

The transcript of the exchange between Detroit News columnist Rob Parker and Lions coach Rod Marinelli after the Lions' 42-7 loss to New Orleans on Sunday:

Parker: Can you fairly evaluate, since he's your son-in-law and he's family, can you fairly evaluate, is there no way or circumstance you would fire (defensive coordinator Joe Barry) because he is your son-in-law?

Marinelli: No ...

Parker: Does that have anything to do with it?

Marinelli: No.

Parker: But it doesn't make sense ...

Marinelli: I've worked with all these guys (on my coaching staff) for years. And I know what they're about. I've worked with them in good times and bad times and I know what we can produce.

Parker: I'm asking about Joe Barry. Not about them. Not about you.

Marinelli: OK.

Parker: I know you're the head coach. I want you to talk about his job and what he's done as a defensive coordinator. Not about you. About him. Tell me why he's doing a good job.

Marinelli: OK. Well, it starts with me. I sit in every game plan. I go through everything. It's what I want. That goes for every assistant top to bottom ...

Parker: I'm not asking about you. I'm asking about him. You've got the worst-rated defense. Why is Joe Barry still employed as defensive coordinator? Why? Give me a reason why.

Marinelli: Because I'm in every meeting. I lead it. I lead the meetings now. I know exactly what I want.

Parker: On a light note, seriously, do you wish your daughter would've married a better defensive coordinator?