Jul 11, 2017

Legacy Media Continue to Circle the Wagons

A story in Politico reports that White House officials asked the organization of journalists that cover the President to condemn an individual reporter in the group for an article that administration officials did not like, and that the organization refused. So why is the group voting this week on whether to exclude certain media entities from its "regular" membership, relegating them to associate member status?

As reported by Politico, White House Correspondents' Association President Jeff Mason of Reuters disclosed the incident during a "town hall" meeting in which WHCA members asked questions of the group's officers.
“The White House has come to ask me specifically, asking me to intervene or criticize a news organization or a reporter … to release a statement criticizing a reporter’s story,” Mason said, declining to elaborate on when the request was made or identify the article.
Mason said he declined to do so and that “we’ve made clear that’s not our role.”
That is, indeed, not the WHCA's role. The organization also doesn't decide what news organizations get White House press passes -- that's the job of the White House press office. What is does do is organize the press pool of journalists that (usually) accompanies the President in situations where the number of reporters is necessarily limited.

But while Mason says that criticizing reporters is "not [WHCA's] role," why is the group voting this week on whether to exclude certain media entities -- primarily, Breitbart News -- from its "regular" membership, relegating them to associate membership and thus excluding them from participation in the pool (but not from receiving information from the pool).

Formally, the proposal is to limit full membership to news organizations that have received credentials to cover Congress from the Standing Committee of Correspondents, whose rules bar credentials from an organization that is not "editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government, or that is not principally a general news organization."

The same rule led the Standing Committee to deny credentials to SCOTUSblog, the leading site devoted to intensive coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court, because of the site's connections to a law firm that argues before the court.

Regrading Breitbart News, in April the Standing Committee declined to grant permanent credentials to the site -- relating its reporters to using temporary passes -- over concerns of the site's connections to a family that has donated to several Republican candidates and causes, and to the Government Accountability Institute, which was founded by former Breitbart chairman and current White House strategist Steve Bannon.

These are legitimate concerns, to a point. An interest or lobbying group should not be able to claim it is a news organization, and receive press credentials. And I'm no fan of Breitbart News. But journalism organizations like the Standing Committee of Correspondents and the White House Correspondents Association need to recognize that journalism and media are changing in both style and corporate form, and that a news organization can still be "legitimate" even if it does not fit the conventional news media mold (which really has only existed since the late 19th century century).

The established media should not use their positions as incumbents and their leadership of journalism organizations to exclude new forms of news media from legitimate newsgathering.


Eric P. Robinson said...

The membership of the Association voted to exclude media which do not have Congressional passes, excluding outlets such as Breitbart News, the Daily Signal and Mother Jones. Not only is this an abdication of responsibility (what does having a Congressional pass have to do with covering the White House?), it is also a horrible example of legacy media using their power to hobble new forms -- and new voices -- of media.

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