According to an exclusive Media Matters report, former White House Correspondents Association President Ed Chen is speaking out over the WHCA’s decision to move Fox News to the front row of the Brady Briefing Room, calling it “a travesty.” Chen’s comments come on the heels of Media Matters’ call to have the seat rescinded in light of News Corp.’s $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association.
However, there are several mischaracterizations in Media Matters’ report, and the WHCA is standing by its decision.
Chen, who was with front row front-runner Bloomberg when the vacancy occurred, framed his objection in the context of Helen Thomas‘ sudden, controversial departure:
A former Bloomberg White House reporter now with the National Resources Defense Council, Chen said giving Fox the coveted former seat of Helen Thomas brought too much conflict to the seat.
“The vacancy was created because of an ideological conflict,” he said, referring to Thomas’ anti-Israel comments that led to her resignation. “To fill the vacancy with another cloud of ideological conflict was most unfortunate and inappropriate.”
…”You had Helen go out on this conflict over politics and a question of fairness,” Chen said. “You fill the seat with someone who drags in all of this controversy.”
While Helen was also not happy with the move, it is important to note that Fox News does not occupy Helen’s former seat. That honor went to the Associated Press, with Fox moving up to the old AP seat (this is also noted in the meeting minutes, included in Media Matters’ report). This is a misconception that has been repeated elsewhere in the media, and it makes a difference. This was a scenario that I suggested in June to forestall the kind of hard feelings that could have resulted from gloating on the part of Fox News’ more ideological personalities (as opposed to the network’s objective White House team).
Additionally, Media Matters reports that “no vote was taken,” which may be technically true, but gives the impression that there was controversy among board members. When the announcement was made, WHCA President-elect Ed Henry tweeted, “In unanimous vote, FOX moves to front row seat formerly held by AP.”
According to a WHCA source, this was Ed’s interpretation of the meeting, since no one on the board objected to any of the changes. In fact, the decision not to hold a vote was made to avoid a Bloomberg shut-out that would not have reflected how close the decision actually was.
Current WHCA President David Jackson stands by the board’s decision, telling Mediaite, “The board did what we thought was right. These were all close, hard decision, on all the seating moves, not just the front row.”
While Chen may have a broad point about the way this decision looks, he’s really comparing apples to oranges. Fox is not taking Helen’s seat, and while the RGA donation raises legitimate questions about News Corp., there is no evidence that the network’s White House team is anything but professional and objective. Finally, Media Matters and Chen ignore the fact that News Corp. holdings actually occupy four different seats in the briefing room. Is the WHCA supposed to revoke all of them?
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