Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Helen Thomas: Who is a Journalist?

Who [are] You Calling A Journalist?
Search For Truth More Important Than Title
Helen Thomas, Hearst White House columnist
POSTED: 5:57 pm EDT April 13, 2005

Who is a journalist?

That is the question that Jeff Gannon, alias James Guckert, asked in his own defense during a National Press Club panel last week.

The club sponsored the discussion to illuminate the differences between legitimate journalists and bloggers -- or imposters.

Gannon and a couple of bloggers were on the panel.

Gannon made news recently after some liberal bloggers began investigating him when he asked President George W. Bush a question that had as its premise the assertion that congressional Democrats were "divorced from reality."

Bush comes to his rare news conferences armed with a list of reporters his staff has designated for him to call on. In giving Gannon the nod, he passed over some of the regular White House journalists -- including yours truly -- all with our hands up.

Gannon had attended White House briefings over a two-year period by getting a regular flow of one-day press passes that allowed him to enter the White House grounds. He did not qualify for a permanent White House press pass or a congressional press pass because he failed to meet the accreditation rules, which include the requirement that the applicant work for a news publication or broadcast outlet.

Gannon was known in the press room for asking softball, right-leaning questions. The digging bloggers revealed him to be a Republican operative, employed by the Talon News Web site, run by volunteer GOP activists and linked to GOSPUSA, a Republican consulting group, owned by Bobby Eberle of Houston.

Once that was established, questions arose as to why he was allowed to attend the daily press sessions.

Gannon complained that he had been targeted by liberal bloggers who did not like his "pro-administration" questions and argued that the harsh treatment he was getting in the mainstream media would have a "chilling" effect on other conservatives in the media.

"I was about the only news source providing ... information without a filter," he said in defending his use of White House press releases verbatim in his so-called "news" reports.

"There is nothing wrong with reporting what the administration says about a particular issue," he said. "Why does everything have to be looked at through a lens that represents every point of view?"

In the ensuing hullabaloo, Gannon resigned from Talon, telling Editor & Publisher magazine -- a news industry trade publication -- that he felt he was a "legitimate" correspondent.

One does wonder where the lines are these days that distinguish between legitimate reporters and anyone who has a laptop computer or a Web site.

Where do the bloggers fit in? They may have something to say -- and nobody is stopping them. Still, the description "journalist" does not apply to what they do.

Edward Wasserman, a professor of journalism at Washington & Lee University, defines a journalist as someone who "is professionally dedicated to truth seeking." He conceded that although the whole job description "has gotten muddied," Gannon shouldn't be considered a journalist.

Gannon was a propagandist, a flack for the White House. Thus, he fails to meet the requirement -- as Wasserman wrote in the Miami Herald last September -- that "anybody who enters the (journalism) profession makes a core commitment to do his or her best to determine and tell the truth."

Tom Rosenstiel, head of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said the proper question is not whether you call yourself a journalist, but whether your work constitutes journalism.
"A journalist tries to get the facts right" and tries to get close to a "verifiable truth," not to take sides but "to inspire public discussion," he said.

This isn't a requirement for bloggers with axes to grind. Professional reporters and editors are trained to understand the need for neutrality in straight news stories. They also have been trained in the ethics that distinguish their profession. It's in the nature of our work that the public has every opportunity to scrutinize what we do. No one lasts long in the news business if there are deliberate distortions of the news.

The late Martha Gellhorn, a legendary foreign correspondent, said: "In all my reporting life, I have thrown small pebbles into a very large pond, and ... have no way of knowing whether any pebble caused the slightest ripple. I don't need to worry about that. My responsibility was the effort."

Fortunately, most newspapers in this country are still devoted to delivering impartial news stories. The editors and publishers see it as an indispensable public service.
(Helen Thomas can be reached at the e-mail address ).

Discuss Helen Thomas' Opinion

Below is part of the discussion:

Truth in journalism would be reporting that reporters ask loaded questions or make up news and report it as if they got it from a known, truthful source or that they report an action by a member of one party as shocking at the same time they don't even report the same action by the party they prefer.

Truth in journalism would be reporting the ethical shortfalls in journalism rather than letting agenda driven reporters off the hook, or worse, picking up their slanted news and rereporting it with even greater bias.

Edward R. Murrow's credibility was not due to a basso profundo voice or good looks or wardrobe. He reported what happened and let listeners decide why it happened.
News agencies that decide what they want to report and how they want to report it based on a political agenda or ratings are shameful. If they would report the unbiased news when and where it happens the public would consume it as a thirsty man consumes water.
Web sites that block posts based on politics are also shameful.

04-13-2005, 3:55 PM

Helen Thomas is and has been for decades, the most tenacious and honest journalist covering Washington. She has never been accused by a credible colleague (liberal or conservative) of being anything less than a professional and someone to whom many younger journalists have looked to as a mentor over those years.

It is indeed sad to see some of the postings here that denegrate her. As for "that old Arab Helen Thomas" comment DOCUMENTED as made by the vicious blond opportunist Coulter, the terms old and Arab were meant as incendiary, I care not how any of her "supporters" wish to lighten it up.

04-12-2005, 9:00 PM

Dear Helen, I wish you can describe to me what your meaning of "truth in journalism is" . A free society is one which information flows freely without any filters or so called " professional journalism". Lets review professional journalism based on CNN reporter in Bagdad which did not report the true facts of Sadam Husian.. Let look at New York Times which fabricated stories of recent events are merely sweeped underneath the rug.. and than there is Dan Rather who so innocently reported a fabricated story on our President. Yet you yourself spin a web of communication deceit to convince your reader ship that all this is ok as long it is done to protect the media establishment. One reassuring fact is that most of the media darlings are becomming mere names on grave stones as age creeps upon there life cycle. And one day as the past news is reveiwed and analized by a new generations with the truth to be known how much power the media elite use to control the information to promote the elitest agenda.. The internet has level the playing field and I enjoy watching past media darling wallow in there misery of self indignation , hatred and contempt for the free flow of information among the masses and the great changes that are moving our society to a great bastion of freedom and independence.

Regards, DJ
04-12-2005, 5:54 PM

By stating that Helen Thomas is a liberal version of Jeff Gannon (aka, James Dale Guckert, Bulldog,etc.) you make my case that liberals are far superior!
Helen is known as the 'dean of the Washington Press Corps'. She was the only journalist to travel with Nixon to China in 1972. She covered every economic summit in her nearly 60 year career. She traveled the world with Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, and Clinton. Quotes: "we (reporters) are not here to curry favor, nor can we respond to efforts at presidential intimidation"...."our priority is the peoples right to know." She usually sat front and center dressed in red and was treated with dignity a respect.... that is, until this president came along.
Now what about Jeff Gannon? His past is veiled in mystery but some things have come to light. His credentials came from a two day journalism seminar. He was known as "Bulldog" on his gay prostitute websites. When he applied for a press pass he did not qualify because the news service he worked for, Talon News, was not considered legit. He is under investigation for his possible connection to the Valerie Plame outing. Nice comparison!
04-12-2005, 3:27 PM

Helen is correct. There aren't any reporters anymore who actually ask follow up questions to get to the real story.
The true heir to Murrow is Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. They are still willing to yell that the Emperor has no clothes, no matter what political party he might belong to.
04-12-2005, 12:32 PM

What racial slur did Ann Coulter launch against Helen Thomas? Thomas is a Syrian and an Arab, is she not? If I called Margaret Thatcher an old European, would that also be a racial slur?
The most outrageous part of your post was Rep. Dingell claiming Helen is unbiased.
Exposing the liberal liars
04-11-2005, 9:02 PM

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