There is currently a fierce battle among several major news outlets to claim the front-row seat in the White House briefing room recently vacated by long-time White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who retired amid scandal in June.
One of the news outlets battling for the seat is Fox News, which is currently the only TV-network without a front-row seat. It will ultimately be up to the nine-member White House Correspondents’ Association board to decide who gets the highly coveted placement.
This morning, The Daily Caller’s Jonathan Strong reported how some members of the now defunct Journolist list-serv discussed how Fox News needed to be shut down. One of the participants in the list-serv conversation was Time magazine White House correspondent Michael Scherer, who is also a member of the same White House Correspondents’ Association board that will determine which news outlet will get the vacant front-row seat in the White House briefing room.
In his missives on Journolist about Fox News, Scherer lambasted the cable news network as being an organization interested in promoting a tribal following, not one interested in the search for truth.
Fox News President Roger “Ailes understands that his job is to build a tribal identity, not a news organization,” Scherer wrote. “You can’t hurt Fox by saying it gets it wrong, if Ailes just uses the criticism to deepen the tribal identity.”
According to its website, the White House Correspondents’ Association is expected to be an impartial and inclusive body. “Consistent with the First Amendment, the White House Correspondents’ Association stands for inclusiveness in the credentialing process so that the White House remains accessible to all journalists,” its website boasts.
David Jackson, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, declined to comment to TheDC on the implications of Scherer’s remarks with regards to the seat assignment process.
In an email statement to TheDC, a Time magazine spokesperson wrote, “Michael Scherer fully disputes The Daily Caller’s account, which selectively quotes his emails and takes his comments about the changing news landscape entirely out of context. In his emails he vocally opposes any suggestions to restrict Fox News.”
Strong reported that Scherer’s statements on the list-serv did seem “to express support for increased regulation of Fox.” As the online conversation deepened, however, Strong reported that Scherer did ultimately push back against the idea of the federal government shutting Fox News down.
“Do you really want the political parties/white house picking which media operations are news operations and which are a less respectable hybrid of news and political advocacy?” he wrote.
“The network of liberal journalists attempting to throw their weight around to shut out Fox News or any other truly major news outlet is reprehensible and undemocratic,” James Campbell, a political science professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo, wrote in an email statement to TheDC. “The attempt to push Fox News out of the way is wrong-headed in almost every way imaginable, from violating basic principles of free press and free speech to its antitrust implications. It also goes a long way to affirming the vast left-wing media conspiracy that many conservatives believe is out there, but had no idea was so well organized.”
Dr. Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, told TheDC that the concern over Scherer’s participation in the selection process was a lot of concern over something of little real significance.
“That front-row seat is largely symbolic,” he said. “Besides, I don’t find it objectionable whether this guy has an opinion or not. If he thinks Fox is a third rate news outlet, he has a right to that opinion.”
Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, had a different view, saying that Scherer’s comments about Fox News do raise concerns over whether he can act as an objective judge in the seat assignment process.
“The seat might not matter to the general public, but it does to Fox and Bloomberg [the other front runner for the seat],” he told TheDC. “Scherer’s words create a sense of inappropriateness and impropriety…I don’t think you want somebody with such prejudices making those decisions”