Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Battle for Helen Thomas' Seat

Politico reports that there is a debate brewing within the White House Correspondents' Association over who should be allowed to occupy the seat once held by Helen Thomas. The contenders: Fox News and National Public Radio. As can be expected, people have varying opinions on who should get the seat, as do I, but I'll share mine in a bit.

First, let's take a look at Fox News. Supporters say it is one of the most fair and balanced cable news networks out there, and it can be argued on both sides as to the veracity of that idea. Critics tend to fall into two categories: those who think Fox News is nothing more than right wing propaganda, and those who think Fox News isn't a real news organization. It should be pointed out, however, that for many years, Helen Thomas was allowed to sit in her vaunted seat without being a reporter. Yes, my friends, for a good chunk of her later career, she opinion columnist. For those who bash Fox News as right wing propaganda, the problem is that the WHCA has set the precedent for Fox News to take the seat, and complaining about their slant now doesn't justify their silence on Thomas' slant for 20+ years.

Next, there's National Public Radio. Supporters say that they are one of the best news organizations out there and without much of a bias. Critics point to the fact that for many years NPR was taxpayer funded (although more recently, they've become much more publicly funded). I've listened to NPR for a number of years, and they do a good job in reporting. However, they do show a leftward bias in subtle ways, from what stories they cover to the way those stories are covered. They're not as bad as MSNBC, but they do occasionally let their personal opinions get in the way of straight reporting.

This leads to the heart of the debate: what constitutes a news organization in today's environment? NPR still reports using old school journalism while Fox News relies more on flash. On the other hand, Fox News has made a bigger impact on journalism in recent years than has NPR. (Whether that impact has been positive or negative is subject to debate, but their impact is undeniable.) Should the seat go to a left-leaning old school journalism outlet or a right-leaning new journalism outlet?

I say neither of them deserve the seat.

The journalism game has changed so much that few people are actual journalists anymore. What they've become is PR agents for a side or a cause, merely repeating what they or their editors believe. And why? So they can get invited to the Washington parties. Reporting the facts has taken a back seat to hobnobbing with the elites, and journalism as a whole has suffered. When a venerable newspaper like the Washington Post has to do a mea culpa for not covering the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation story for over a year, and another venerable newspaper like the New York Times not even doing that much, it's clear that the journalism profession is seriously broken.

So, I don't think NPR or Fox News deserve Helen Thomas' seat, but that's only because I don't think the majority of so-called journalists deserve a seat in the White House Press Room.

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