Helen Thomas departure complicates race for White House correspondent’s board

Jon Ward Contributor
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Helen Thomas’s departure from the White House press corps adds a wild card to the race among reporters to sit on a board that will decide who gets her permanent front-row seat in the Brady briefing room.

Thomas’s retirement over anti-Semitic remarks means her seat at the White House will be given to another news outlet. The WHCA will vote, possibly as soon as the new board is installed on July 16, on who moves up front.

The conventional wisdom is that Fox News is favored to move from the second to first row. But Bloomberg News is a dark horse and will make the case that it should join news wire outlets Reuters and the Associated Press.

Nonetheless, Fox’s status as the No. 1-rated cable TV network will give it a nearly unimpeachable argument in its own favor, though criticism from liberal bloggers and the Obama administration’s well-known animus for the network could play a role.

The Washington Post, which is also in the second row, may also make a play for the seat, a reporter at the paper said.

The WHCA has nine seats*, with one vacancy. Two members of the board are departing and being replaced. A third is running for another term unopposed.

So far, both board members and candidates for the board are avoiding a public position on who should get the Thomas seat. The most outspoken candidate for the board was the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler, who said the WHCA’s decision should be transparent.

“I don’t know who should get the seat, and I wouldn’t consider taking a position until I have heard arguments from all who want it. I do feel strongly that the decision should be made in the light of day and not quietly by the board. Everyone who wants to have a say should have an opportunity,” Meckler said by e-mail.

The Journal is in the second row, and could conceivably make a move to take the Thomas seat, though Meckler said she would not consider such an action.

Meckler is running against two other print reporters for an at-large seat on the board. One of them, Hans Nichols, works for Bloomberg. The other is Carol Lee of Politico, which currently has a fourth row seat.

Nichols did not express an opinion when asked how he would vote on the Thomas seat, and Lee said she would talk to WHCA members and vote according to who had the most support.

In the meantime, a different print reporter will be allowed to sit in Thomas’s seat each day. There are 37 print publications, including The Daily Caller, that rotate into the print spot in the pool of reporters that go to the president’s smaller events each day, and which move with him in the motorcade if he makes a trip inside the city or nearby. The reporter who represents the print pooler each day will have the chance to sit in the front row, then, once every five weeks. For many reporters, it will be their only chance in that entire period to ask a question of Gibbs publicly.

Conceivably, the board could decide to keep the arrangement, though that would anger both Fox and Bloomberg.

“I support letting the daily print pooler use it until the incoming board tackles reorganizing the briefing room seats, probably later this summer,” said the Examiner’s Julie Mason, who is on the WHCA board.

*This article originally stated that the WHCA has eight seats. It has since been corrected.

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