White House Reporters Worried About Biased Web Sites in Pool

December 3rd, 2009 6:06 PM

The White House's decision to include prominent left-wing blogs in its reporting pool has some journalists worried. Since members of the rotating pool often base their reports off of reports from outlets that attend, they worry that the presence of openly partisan news outlets could skew coverage of the White House.

“This is really troubling,” New York Times reporter Peter Baker told Politico's Michael Calderone. “We’re blurring the line between news and punditry even further and opening ourselves to legitimate questions among readers about where the White House press corps gets its information.”

The White House has decided to include reporters from the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo in its rotating group of press correspondents.

Ed Chen, who reports for Bloomberg News, noted that many consumers would not consider mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times or the Washington Times "objective" outlets.

But given the White House's expressed distaste for news organizations that have a "point of view," as chief political advisor David Axelrod characterized the Fox News Channel, it is puzzling that the White House would lend such openly political news organizations this credibility and respect.

Unlike HuffPo and TPM in their new roles, Fox's supposedly biased reporting affected only Fox and its viewers, while the two blogs will be relaying facts through their partisan lenses for other news organizations to report.

Granted, many media outlets picked up on stories initially reported at Fox (even by its prime-time opinion shows), but those stories had to rest on their merits. TPM's and HuffPo's reporting from the White House, in contrast, will be bestowed with an instant air of legitimacy by their presences in the press corps.

If the White House is really serious about promoting objective journalism, it should restrict its press pool to news outlets that at least claim to be objective in their reporting. If, as it has claimed, the administration is simply trying to account for changes in the media environment and afford alternative sources some credibility, why not invite some center-right blogs to join? NewsBusters would be happy to send a correspondent.

The White House's actions have further crystalized its attitude towards the news media. Contrary to the claims of its top officials, opinion content apparently does not render a news outlet illegitimate. Well, at least liberal opinion content. Fox's conservative opinion shows (Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity) were enough to earn the channel a White House boycott, which has since ended. Yet blogs that are openly liberal are welcomed into the inner circles of the administration's press entourage.

Calderone asked NB's Tim Graham for comment after HuffPo and TPM (as well as Salon and Ebony Magazine) were asked to join the pool. He summed up well the hypocrisy involved:

If liberals are upset that Fox News is being treated as a legitimate news organization instead of a GOP talking-points channel, then it's mystifying that the [White House Correspondents' Association] is broadening ‘news’ media to encompass blogs and websites that raged against the Bush White House...

Would anyone seriously suggest that TPM, the Huffington Post and Salon are more objective than Fox News?

The double standard is glaring. While few truly believed that the White House's only objection to Fox was the channel's occasionally partisan prime-time commentators--the functional equivalent of a newspaper's op/ed pages--it is now plainly clear that the administration has no problem with opinion journalism, as long as it is the right opinion.