In its campaign to drive Fox News from the front row of the White House briefing room, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters did one thing right: It waited until the last week of August. Only in this most barren stretch of the traditional summer news doldrums could this utter non-issue be mistaken by anyone for a matter of genuine importance.
Actually, it's not one non-issue but two non-issues rolled up into one. The first is the now-settled question of which news organization deserved to occupy the seat previously held by now-retired reporter Helen Thomas. Fox won out over Bloomberg and NPR, scoring the coveted privilege of asking the President's flack questions and then writing down what he says while 48 other people do the same, from slightly farther away. If the purpose of a political reporter is to break actual exclusive, agenda-setting stories, there's no worse place to do it than from the front row of the White House briefing room.
Then there's the non-issue of the $1 million donation by Fox News parent News Corp. (NWS) to the Republican Governors Association. Though Media Matters and other critics have tried to paint this as devastating to the credibility of News Corp.'s various news outlets, in fact, as I've written, there's nothing in the least unusual about a media conglomerate giving money to a partisan political campaign.
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Still, Media Matters persists in its attempt to manufacture outrage, calling for the White House Correspondents Association to reconsider its utterly inconsequential decision. That call resonated with former WHCA president Ed Chen, who says giving a front-row seat to Fox was "a travesty of a decision." Noting that the seat only opened up because Thomas couldn't keep her anti-Israel views to herself, Chen adds, "To fill the vacancy with another cloud of ideological conflict was most unfortunate and inappropriate."
And what has Chen been doing since his days as a White House correspondent, you ask? Good question. He's now the communications director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the environmental lobbying group whose board of trustees is replete with Hollywood liberals like Leonardo DiCaprio, Laurie David, Robert Redford and James Taylor. I point this out not because I think it ought to disqualify Chen from serving as head of the WHCA but because I think it ought to disqualify him from bitching about Fox News's "ideological conflict," or at least disqualify him from being taken seriously when he does it.
Kicking Fox out of its new place in the White House press room isn't going to solve the problem of political bias in the media. It would merely be a victory for a different brand of bias.
Clarification, 8/25/10: The initial version of this post read as though Fox News had moved into Thomas's seat in the briefing room. In fact, the Associated Press moved into that seat, with Fox filling AP's previous front-row seat.
Why Media Matters Should Stop Picking on Fox News (This Time)