Fox News should not get a front row seat to engage in political advocacy

Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

The Washington press corps is all agog over the fate of the front-row seat in the White House briefing room that had been occupied by Helen Thomas prior to her controversial retirement, with prominent media figures publicly lobbying the White House Correspondents Association to give the seat to Fox News. But given Fox News' history of using its current seat in the press room to advance its role as an extension of the Republican Party, the association should resist any and all pressure to put Fox News in the front row.

As is abundantly clear, Fox News operates as an extension of the Republican Party. Fox News aggressively promoted the "tea party" protests, which Fox itself described as primarily a response to President Obama's fiscal policies, and uses its airwaves to engage in open advocacy against the White House and congressional Democrats. In recent years, at least 20 Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or causes, or against Democratic candidates or causes, in more than 300 instances and in at least 49 states. Republican parties and officials have routinely touted these personalities' affiliations with Fox News to sell and promote their events. Fox News further operates as a de facto revolving door for former Bush administration officials, former and potentially future GOP presidential candidates, and Republican strategists. Fox News further demonstrates its hostility to the White House by continuing to employ host Glenn Beck, who used his platform at Fox to call President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred for white people."

While Fox News and its enablers try to dismiss critics by claiming there is a distinction between news and opinion programming, Fox has shown an alarming willingness to use its very seat in the White House briefing room to manufacture and advance false Republican narratives. And for that it should not be rewarded with a move to the front row.

Just this past August, Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett used his seat in the briefing room to manufacture a controversy over a supposed White House email "list," a controversy he subsequently fanned by falsely claiming that the concept of a "list" was first broached by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

During that day's briefing, Garrett asked Gibbs about an email sent out earlier in the day by White House adviser David Axelrod:

Speaking of the email, how was the list for who would receive it determined?

To be clear, at no point prior to Garrett's question did Gibbs mention a "list" of email recipients. Gibbs attempted to answer Garrett's question three times without once saying the word list. After Garrett asked a fourth variation of the question -- again, a question he himself used to introduce the possible existence of a "list" -- Gibbs responded, "I'd be interested to see who you got that email from and whether or not they're on the list."

Got that? Garrett asked how people got on "the list." Repeatedly. Gibbs responded that he would have to see whether the "folks" Garrett cited were on "the list" that Garrett first introduced to the conversation.

Not to belabor the point, but this is important. Because the following day, Major Garrett appeared on Fox News and misconstrued that very straightforward conversation, saying, "I never said 'list' until Robert Gibbs said 'list.' He said it first, then I repeated the word 'list.' So apparently there is one."

In a brazen illustration of enabling Garrett's manufactured controversy, Fox News aired the latter part of Garrett's exchange with Gibbs, but not the part where Garrett so very clearly introduced the concept of a list.

This is just one particularly egregious example of Fox News using its seat at the White House briefing room to advance right-wing falsehoods, underscoring the point that Fox News is little more than opinion and outright falsehoods masquerading as journalism.

Which brings us to the White House briefing room seat previously occupied by Thomas. In 2000, Thomas left her role at UPI and subsequently joined Hearst Newspapers as a columnist. She kept her seat in the front row, an honor criticized by conservatives, who went on to complain when Thomas turned her criticism to the Bush administration. These complaints were summed up succinctly by none other than Fox News' Brit Hume during a March 9, 2003, appearance on Fox News Sunday:

But let's face it, the questions that she has been asking at White House briefings and press conferences for decades have not been questions of the kind that any professional journalist would normally ask. Mostly they are argumentative, she makes statements, she give speeches, she does things that journalists trying to behave with some neutrality simply do not do, and she's gotten away with it, lo these many years, principally because she had been there all this time and she had became sort of an institution.

She is not now a working daily reporter; she's a columnist, an opinion dispenser, and she has been moved out of the front row of the press conferences. She retains, however, her front row seat in the White House briefing room. And why is that? Privately, they will tell you, that her questions are so outrageous and so over-the-top that when the press -- the person giving the briefing wants to generate a little sympathy in the TV audience, all you got to do is call on Helen.

Fox News executives have made no qualms about portraying their network as the "voice of opposition." The White House Correspondents Association should not let Fox News bring its political advocacy to the front row of the White House briefing room.

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