Gibbs: Nobody at Fox Is a Journalist; It’s Not a News Organization
White House officials once again advanced its contention that Fox News and its commentators are not journalists, rather a propaganda wing of the Republican Party. During the gaggle, an informal on-the-record but off-camera briefing between the White House press secretary and some members of the media, Robert Gibbs and ABC’s Jake Tapper had this conversation:
Tapper: It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations “not a news organization” and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one –
Gibbs: Jake, we render, we render an opinion based on some of their coverage and the fairness that, the fairness of that coverage.
Tapper: But that’s a pretty sweeping declaration that they are “not a news organization.” How are they any different from, say –
Gibbs: ABC –
Tapper: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?
Gibbs: You and I should watch sometime around 9 o’clock tonight. Or 5 o’clock this afternoon.
Tapper: I’m not talking about their opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports. I’m talking about saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a “news organization” — why is that appropriate for the White House to say?
Gibbs: That’s our opinion.
I wonder if Major Garrett, Fox’s White House correspondent, was in the room.
Swamppolitics.com reported that Michael Clemente, senior vice president of news at FOX News, replied by saying: “Hundreds of journalists come to work each day at FOX News all deeply committed to their craft. It’s disappointing that the White House would be so dismissive of their fine work and continue their vengeful war against a news organization.”
Brett Baier of Fox reported on air today that Clemente said: “Surprisingly, the White House continues to declare war on a news organization instead of folk focusing on the critical issues that Americans are concerned about, like jobs, healthcare and two wars. The door remains open and we welcome a discussion about the facts behind the issues.”
Ruth Marcus, who writes for the PostPartisan blog at the Washington Post, had this to say this morning:
Sure, it’s legitimate — and standard practice — to dispense access and coveted interviews to favored reporters and news outlets. So is subtly doing the opposite: letting a reporter who’s filed a tough story know that he or she is in the doghouse by leaking a scoop to a competitor. The Bush administration routinely briefed conservative columnists before a big presidential speech; the Obama White House tends to call in ideological sympathizers. This is the way the game is played.
Where the White House has gone way overboard is in its decision to treat Fox as an outright enemy and to go public with the assault. Imagine the outcry if the Bush administration had pulled a similar hissy fit with MSNBC. “Opinion journalism masquerading as news,” White House communications director Anita Dunn declared of Fox. Certainly Fox tends to report its news with a conservative slant — but has anyone at the White House clicked over to MSNBC recently?
That statement, in turn, brought a quick rebuttal from the left. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters writes:
In a way, Marcus is simply reinforcing the age-old Beltway truism: When Democrats criticize the press it’s whiny and petty, but when Republicans do it, it’s savvy and brash. (Just ask veterans of the Clinton administration.)
But more specifically, Marcus is commenting on a media landscape of which she is completely ignorant. For instance, she claims Fox News operates just like MSNBC did during the Bush years. MSNBC featured Bush bashers Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, and today Fox News boasts Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, so c’mon what’s the big deal. I guess the big deal is I don’t remember either Olbermann or Maddow comparing MSNBC employees to persecuted Jews during the Holocaust, which was the twisted comparison Beck recently made regarding the Fox News staff.
In other words, I don’t recall Olbermann or Maddow going bat shit crazy on national television, scribbling away on a chalkboard as they fantasized about connecting George Bush to every conceivable strain of historical evil. And I don’t remember either MSNBC host launching hateful and hollow witch hunts against semi-obscure administration officials, the way Hannity has latched onto the homophobic attacks against Kevin Jennings.
But guess what? The same elite pundits who are telling the White House is chill out over Fox News are the same elite pundits who for weeks have refused to acknowledge the hateful Jennings witch hunt. Which brings me back to my original question: Do journalists like Marcus even watch Fox News? Do they understand what its programming day now looks like? My guess is the answer is no, even though lots of them have taken it upon themselves to speak out as Fox News experts; to lecture the White House about how normal and mainstream the cable outlet is.
Josh Gerstein and Mike Allen of POLITICO write today that the White House effort is to get other journalists to think twice before following Fox’s stories in their own coverage.
“We’re doing what we think is important to make sure news is covered as fairly as possible,” a White House official told POLITICO, noting how the recent ACORN scandal story started because Fox covered it “breathlessly for weeks on end.”
“And then you had a couple days of breast-beating from The Washington Post and The New York Times about whether or not they were fast enough on the ACORN story,” the official said. “And it’s like: Wait a second, guys. Let’s make sure that we keep perspective on what are the most important stories, and what’s being driven by a network that has a perspective. Being able to make that point has been important.”
That raises a red flag to me. Are journalists supposed to take the White House’s lead as to which stories they should cover? Aren’t the Post and Times capable of deciding for themselves what stories need to be chased and what is nonsense? This is a judgment call made by assigning editors every day. For instance, the birther stories are rightfully ignored by most journalists because they are blatantly absurd. Sometimes it seems, only Chris Matthews is keeping that one alive. But the ACORN story, even though being instigated by a conservative filmmaker, was news because of the videotapes that could not be ignored.
It’s up to journalists to decide what they should cover, and at no point should they take their lead from the White House, whether it is occupied by a Republican or a Democrat. And if White House officials think its their role to determine for the national media what the important stories of the day are, then we are all in a lot of trouble.
And finally, for those who are interested in signing petitions. MoveOn.org has started one urging Democrat members of Congress to stay off the network as long as the president avoids appearing on it.