Major Garrett on Fox, His New Job And The Briefing Room Seat Controversy

Major Garrett, the Fox News White House correspondent who is leaving for National Journal, offered his views in a wide-ranging interview that touched on the stresses of life at Fox, the controversy over the briefing room seat, his new job and even Media Matters' criticism of him.

On his job move, Garrett said he is taking a pay cut to join National Journal, but said he was not pushed out and noted the magazine's recent beefing up of staff with journalistic heavyweights such as Matt Cooper, Ron Fournier and Ron Brownstein made it worthwhile.

“These are people I have always had great respect for,” said Garrett, whose experience includes stints at several newspapers and U.S. News & World Report. “I just found something that is consistent with the kind of thing I want to get back to.”

Garrett admitted that life at Fox was sometimes stressful, especially when the network was in a battle last fall with the White House.

“Was that stressful? Did it impart on me a certain amount of personal angst? Of course,” he told me. “That is stressful.”

He added: “I worked very hard and had been put in a position by the network. I rode it through.”

Garrett said covering the White House during its friction with Fox “was heavyweight stuff for anyone who cares about their reputation and the reputation of their employer. When you are among the most visible parts of the network you are not a human being if you don't feel it. Life tests you at this and I believe I passed the test.”

He also noted Media Matters observations, offering props for criticism that was on target: “I've gotten some tough treatment and there were times you guys were right and I internalized that and said 'that is a lesson learned.'”

Garrett also claimed that Fox viewers can separate his reporting from the opinion shows such as The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity and Glenn Beck: “People who love Fox separate those things, I separate those things, the network separates those things. I have always left it at that.”

He said it is no different than an editorial page of a newspaper being separated from the news pages. Still, he admitted: “it is a much bigger magnitude at a national level.”

Asked what was the best part and worst part of working at Fox, Garrett said: “The best thing was being promoted, being rewarded for the work I did and reaching the largest cable audience in America.”

The worst? “There are parts of it that would grind me. The whole cable news grind. The constant demand. The constant voracious maw of the camera. Having to fill it. The mouth that simply will not close and cannot be adequately fed.”

Garrett says the controversial front-row briefing room seat that his network recently won was not important to him.

He said he was always called on from the second row and never sought the first row space.

“Being in the front row was never that important to me,” said Garrett, who spoke by phone Thursday night from Martha's Vineyard where he was covering Barack Obama's vacation. “It doesn't matter where you sit, it matters what you ask.”

Garrett's comments followed the recent uproar over the White House Correspondents Association awarding a front-row seat to Fox News following the departure of Helen Thomas.

Media Matters recently called for the seat to be reassigned given revelations that Fox parent company News Corp. had given $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.

Garrett, an eight-year Fox employee, said he was always given access at briefings because, he says, he was a fair reporter: “I consider the logistical thing second to what you bring as far as questions. If I was successful in proving anything in this beat, it was not where you sit it was that you were called on. I was called on from day one.”

Garrett, 48, admits that the front-row seat gives a more visual element during briefings, adding: “It is a great director's shot.” But he stressed the battle for the seat was more from Fox News than from him.

“The seat took on a larger symbol of things to different people,” he explained. “It mattered to the network. It reflects a network commitment that predates me.”