Will the White House Press Corps Get Wimpier Without Helen Thomas?

Jon Ward of the Daily Caller, until recently a White House reporter for the Washington Times, wrote a piece for Sunday's Washington Post titled “Why we'll miss Helen Thomas.” But Ward also interviewed some White House press colleagues who suggested Thomas had ventured across a line into explicit advocacy and argument:

"Helen had always been a tough, no-nonsense interrogator of presidents and press secretaries," said Ann Compton, who has reported on the past six presidents for ABC News. "About a decade ago, when she shed her role as reporter and began a career at Hearst as an opinion columnist, Helen's questions began to cross the line into advocacy."

Ward wrote that as “zany and obvious” her advocacy had become, he wondered if other reporters couldn't learn something about being a little bit tougher on press secretary Robert Gibbs. Fox reporter Major Garrett admitted to Ward “that until the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico became a major story, the White House press corps (himself included) had often failed to adequately hold Gibbs's feet to the fire.” He explained:

"There had long been an unnecessary deference and sort of delicacy and decorum about waiting to be called upon, and rigidly adhering to what is essentially a manufactured process that Robert sought to achieve at the very beginning," Garrett said. He added that the dynamic of the press room works best when reporters are free to follow up and really push the press secretary, but "that has been extremely rare, for whatever reason."

Ward offered a few examples he felt showed excessive deference:

A couple of incidents come to mind. At a briefing just one week after Obama's inauguration, for example, only two reporters pressed Gibbs for details about the president's knowledge of a drone strike in Pakistan -- the first military action of the new administration -- and they received no backing from colleagues in the room when he refused to discuss it. And more recently, in the June 3 briefing, Gibbs faced only a few scattered questions on the announcement by Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff that a top White House official had dangled three job possibilities in front of him should he drop his challenge to the incumbent Democrat, Michael Bennet.

Ward didn't explore the idea that the bosses of these White House reporters weren't truly interested in pressing Gibbs. Even as several reporters asked for answers on job offers to Romanoff and Pennsylvania's Joe Sestak, the networks never put the non-answers of Gibbs on the air to create pressure for more disclosure. Persistent questions by reporters alone doesn't move the news needle. Their bosses also have to find it essential to get answers out of Gibbs.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis