The White House Print Pool
Politico's Michael Calderone has an interesting story today about the members of the rarified White House press pool whining about the recent inclusion of Talking Points Memo and Huffington Post in their exclusive club. The press pool, as Matt Yglesias ably explains, is "basically a mutually agreed upon plaigiarism pact" in which a large group of news organizations agree to pool their resources. Instead of having 20 reporters follow the president to his golf game on Sunday, the pool sends just one to cover the president's activities for the day. The pool reporter of the day (the responsibility rotates among the members of the pool) files detailed just-the-facts updates that the rest of the pool organizations rely on when putting together their own stories. Apparently some White House reporters are worried that the presence of TPM and HuffPo in the pool will make people doubt other pool members' credibility:
White House reporters have privately discussed and debated the recent addition of sites like Talking Points Memo and Huffington Post into the White House in-town press pool. It’s not that reporters are criticizing the work of either Christina Bellantoni or Sam Stein, but some have expressed concerns about pool reports coming from left or right-leaning news organizations that will then be used by the rest of the press corps.
"This is really troubling," said New York Times reporter Peter Baker in an email to POLITICO. "We’re blurring the line between news and punditry even further and opening ourselves to legitimate questions among readers about where the White House press corps gets its information."
Baker said he has no problem with outlets like Huffington Post, which he described "an important part of the marketplace of ideas." But the site, he said, has a mission "to produce pieces with strongly argued points of view" and that puts the Times—or other non-partisan news organizations—"in a position of relying on overtly ideological or opinionated organizations as our surrogate news gatherers."
Critics of including HuffPo and TPM in the pool claim that they're not accusing Stein or Bellantoni of being unprofessional or misleading, they're just worried about the appearance of bias. But this really stems from something else: the belief by the so-called "mainstream media" that their reporters (and only their reporters) are somehow magically endowed with the ability to write and report without making any subjective judgments. The bit in Baker's email about "overtly ideological" organizations is especially revealing. Is it better that news outlets are covertly ideological? The Washington Times is part of the in-town press pool—and Bellantoni previously wrote pool reports when she was that paper's White House reporter. Fox News is part of the television pool. Does anyone really think the Washington Times is non-ideological? What's the disqualifying difference between the Washington Times and TPM? TPM's not on paper? TPM's leans left instead of right? Peter Baker used to work for the Washington Times but not for TPM?
In any case, if the inclusion of TPM and Huffington Post in the press pool hastens the public's realization that all reporting involves points of view, that would be a good thing. Reporters are not robots. We make decisions all the time that affect the way our stories come out. Reporters' decisions about who to talk to, how to describe events, and what kind of credibility to give to different sources (Judy Miller, anyone?) all affect the final product. Does anyone seriously argue that opinion judgments never appear in New York Times stories? What about the paper's judgment to avoid using the term "torture"? What about this or this or this or this or this or this or this? Good journalists do their best to report the truth. And even New York Times reporters make judgments about what, exactly, that is.