Does Bill Press Understand Difference Between News and Opinion?

December 15th, 2009 2:43 PM
Former "Crossfire" host Bill Press apparently cannot distinguish between news and opinion. He is furious that his application for press credentials with the congressional press corps was denied due to content on his website urging readers to tell Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to vote for health care legislation in the Senate. He cites numerous examples of CPC members that host opinion content, but neglects to differentiate between their commentary and their news coverage.

"Senator Joe Lieberman said he will vote against Harry Reid's proposed health reform bill that includes a public plan option. Call Senator Lieberman's office and tell him he's wrong to do so, and should vote FOR it," wrote Press on his site, The CPC forbids its correspondants from being "engaged in the prosecution of claims or the promotion of legislation pending before Congress."

Press was puzzled, however, that news outlets such as the Washington Times, the Huffington Post, Fox News, Al Jazeera, Venezuela TV, and Pacifica Radio were granted CPC membership, given the presence of opinion content in each of their outlets. "Irony? No, that's sheer hypocrisy," he wrote for the Huffington Post today.

Do these outlets host opinion? Yes. But the reporters in the congressional press pool refrain from literally telling their audiences to call in and support or oppose certain pieces of legislation. Even the late Bob Novak, whom Press cited as an example of an opinion journalist, did not partake in what amounts (by the IRS's definition) to lobbying.

Writes Press,
The ultimate irony resides in the membership of the Executive Committee itself. Sitting on the committee, most of whom voted against me, were correspondents from Fox News, Salem Radio Networks (syndicator of Hugh Hewitt, Bill Bennett, and Michael Medved), C-Span, CBS News, WTOP Radio, Newshour, and Al Jazeera - no representative of whom, of course, has ever been known to express an opinion about legislation pending in Congress.
Surely there are reporters for each of those outlets who have at some point expressed some opinion about pending legislation. But in the course of their duties for their respective organizations, they have not specifically called on their readers, viewers, or listeners to call legislators and voice their support or opposition for specific bills.

Since Press himself would be reporting from the Capitol, his statements reflect on his ability to report the news fairly. A journalist can work for a politically stilted publication and still cover the news fairly. But a politically stilted journalist is just that. Maybe Press should have someone else from his show--someone who has not told the show's viewers to support or oppose specific bills--to apply for CPC credentials.

Press's indignation demonstrates that he no longer sees the line between news and opinion. While many of the CPC members surely belong to organizations that also publish opinion content, Press's show does not differentiate between the two. Furthermore, Press himself has shilled for Democratic health care legislation, demonstrating that he does not practice objectivity in his own reporting. His accusations  of hypocrisy are unwarranted.

Keith Olbermann displayed a similar inability to differentiate between news and opinion when, to bolster his claim that there is no such thing as liberal media bias, he rattled off the names of a number of conservative opinion commentators. This confusion seems rampant among left-wing media observers, as NB's Jeff Poor recently documented.