The White House Correspondents’ Association just sent to its members the minutes of its Aug. 1 meeting at which the latest round of seating room assignments was decided in the wake of Helen Thomas’ evacuation of her front row seat.
Helen, you will remember, recently suggested sending the Israeli Jews back to Germany and Poland, so her new seat is at home in front of the television.
The key decision, heavily charged with political overtones, was the choice of which news organization to move into the front row. Some liberal groups were horrified by the prospect that Fox News would land there – which it did – and instead proposed National Public Radio.
With CNN in the front row even though it trails Fox in the ratings, Fox was more than eager to move up. Bloomberg’s news wire service also made a case for a front row seat, noting that AP and Reuters are already there.
The minutes show that the decision wasn’t easy and that it was a close call. Here’s an excerpt focusing on the contentious issue.
A motion was made to move Fox News to the front row. Board members began a debate of the three news organizations vying for the spot, and the relative merits of each proposal.
Several board members noted that Bloomberg News is a growing, global news organization with a strong presence at the White House. It was observed that Bloomberg employs top-flight journalists and long ago exceeded its original model as a business news outlet.
Fox News also was discussed. Their contributions to the television pool, the excellent team fielded to the beat and longstanding presence at the White House was discussed favorably. Fox News also is a regular traveler on the beat, shouldering many costs.
It was noted that NPR journalists are regular contributors to Fox News. The size of NPR’s audience also was noted as a strong point in its favor, along with the high-profile, multi-person commitment to in-depth White House beat coverage and regular travel.
It was also observed, without strong prejudice, that moving NPR to the front row would require a two-row leapfrog by the news organization, while the board felt more inclined to limit moves by any news organization to no more than one row in any direction.
It was noted around the room that between Bloomberg and Fox, it was a very close call. All the other wire services sit in the front row, along with all the other major TV outlets. Both travel extensively and have maintained a White House presence for more than a decade.
It was observed and commented upon that Fox makes greater use of the daily briefing than Bloomberg. While Fox frequently uses tape and information from the briefing for its programming, Bloomberg relies more heavily on other sources of news for a great deal of their reporting.
Some arguments were put forward only to be discarded as noteworthy but not persuasive: That Fox spends more money traveling, that three years ago Fox was reportedly told they were next in line, that the briefing is already too much of a television spectacle, that there were wiring issues associated with different seats.
A motion was made to move AP to the center seat — a matter that had been under informal discussion among the board members for some time — and put Fox in AP’s front row seat.
Other notable moves included shifing POLITCO and American Urban Radio Network to the third row and bumping the Washington Times, whose resources and readership have declined, from the third row to the fourth.
Of course, passions ran high, because to some within the Washington journalism community, where you stand – or sit – among your peers is a bigger deal than, say, getting the Pentagon Papers.