That, at least, is the standard former WHCA president Edwin Chen has set forth. In an interview with the far-left blog Media Matters, Chen dubbed "a travesty" the WHCA's decision to award a front-row seat in the briefing room to Fox News. His objection? "The vacancy was created because of an ideological conflict," and would be filled by "another cloud of ideological conflict."
The first ideological conflict to which Chen referred was Helen Thomas's retirement, forced by a video showing her making anti-Semitic comments. The second: the political contributions of Fox's parent company, News Corp.
The years of offensive, derogatory, and (to say the least) controversial comments from Thomas - such as "thank God for Hezbollah" and "why does [George W. Bush] want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?" - are apparently, in Chen's mind, not indicative of "ideological conflict" as he uses the phrase in this context.
Thomas's presence in the front row was never an issue of concern for Chen until her final outburst as a White House reporter. In fact, Chen defended Thomas's record of journalistic fairness even after she retired. "She was a bipartisan inflictor of pain," he told NPR.
But Chen lamented to Media Matters that Thomas retired in the midst of "this conflict over politics and a question of fairness," and that Fox "drags in all of this controversy" because of its parent company's political donations. But if the issue is controversy - if Chen believes that White House reporters should not drag controversy into the briefing room - why is this only becoming an issue now? Why is controversy surrounding Fox News any more of a disqualifying factor than controversy surrounding Helen Thomas?
Of course Chen and others will note that Thomas is an opinion columnist, not a "straight news" reporter. To which any sensible observer will reply that no one is citing Fox's coverage of the White House as cause for concern. The controversy has to do not with Fox's news operation, but rather with its parent company's political activities. If Fox's discontents in the WHCA were able to claim that Fox's news operation is too opinionated, or that its parent company's political activities are directly affecting its work in the White House press pool, they would do so.
Another former WHCA president, former Knight Ridder reporter Ron Hutcheson, takes a similar angle, raising the issue of whether Fox can report fairly without actually citing any of Fox's reporting. Hutcheson told Media Matters that "a big political contribution by any news organization raises some questions. Clearly the management of Fox has political views."
Since Hutcheson and Chen are so concerned about "political views" staining the WHCA's reputation for fairness, why are they more concerned with hypothetical bias from reporters who have not themselves demonstrated political favoritism than they are with Helen Thomas, a White House reporter who was open about her political favoritism?
Thomas proudly proclaimed her political views on more than one occasion. "I’m a liberal, I was born a liberal, and I will be a liberal ’til the day I die," she told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I'd say I'm about as far left as you can go," she told the Fox Business Network's Stuart Varney.
If the issue is journalistic fairness - whether White House correspondents can give those they are covering a fair shake - you would think that the litany of outrageous statements from Thomas, coupled with her self-proclaimed uber-leftism, would set off more alarms than the fact that the Fox correspondent's news organization's parent company gave more to one political party than the other.
The real "travesty" is the double standard at play.
A couple concluding notes on Chen: the Washington Examiner's Julie Mason told Media Matters that the WHCA's decision on the vacant seat came down to one between Fox and Bloomberg, Chen's former employer. In other words, he's not exactly a neutral arbiter of this dispute.
Chen's current employer is the Natural Resources Defense Council. If his double standard on controversial White House correspondents did not tip you off to his personal political views, that fact should.
About the Author
Lachlan Markay is an associate with Dialog New Media. Click here to follow Lachlan Markay on Twitter.