Not government business

President Obama last week managed to get Fox News and its competitors on the same page.

The Obama war against the “news” organization prompted representatives of ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC to come to the aid of Fox.

According to a transcript posted on the ABC site—it does not appear in the White House transcripts—that network’s Jake Tapper engaged in this dialogue with Obama spokesperson Robert Gibbs at a White House briefing:

Tapper: It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations “not a news organization” and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one—

Gibbs: Jake, we render, we render an opinion based on some of their coverage and the fairness that—the fairness of that coverage.

Tapper: But that’s a pretty sweeping declaration that they are “not a news organization.” How are they any different from, say—

Gibbs: ABC—

Tapper: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?

Gibbs: You and I should watch sometime around 9 o’clock tonight. Or 5 o’clock this afternoon.

Tapper: I’m not talking about their opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports. I’m talking about saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a “news organization” Why is that appropriate for the White House to say?

It’s useful to note that Tapper’s alleged confrontation drew plenty of skepticism (“Jake Tapper demands everyone apologize for saying ‘Druidism is not a real religion’”), in part because Tapper was not that principled when the Bush White House was going after MSNBC.

Nevertheless, Tapper is right about this one.

Neither President Obama nor any other public official is entitled by right to balanced coverage or to “objective” coverage, whatever that is.

The notion of objective journalism is relatively new, and its practitioners often are caught trying to pull the ladder up after them, arguing that only their kind of journalism is legitimate. During last week’s White House campaign against Fox, a panel discussion of media coverage at the Truckee Meadows Democratic Alliance included a defense of advocacy journalism by Reno radio reporter Christianne Brown and our news editor Dennis Myers.

In fact, when the First Amendment was written, no objective journalism existed. The amendment was written during an era of post-colonial journalism that was unfair, slanted, vitriolic, partisan and libelous. And the Founding Fathers wanted it protected. The founders’ belief was that if all viewpoints fight it out in the marketplace of ideas, the public can sort it all out.

They certainly did not have in mind a president getting to decide who is and is not a journalist and which journalists can have access to the public’s government, records and officials, as President Obama has tried to do by barring Fox from a White House briefing on corporate pay.

Journalism is changing. It’s never been one-size-fits-all. The president should get used to the idea, back off and treat all media the same—the fair and unfair, the objective and subjective, the good and bad.