It’s not really news that the editor of a news organization run by an ideologically motivated think tank should join a presidential administration’s press pool. But apparently, the New York Times thinks otherwise — well, at least if the parent think tank is the conservative Heritage Foundation and not the liberal Center for American Progress.
In a more than 700-word news article, the paper of record fulminated that veteran journalist and Daily Signal founder Robert Bluey was seated in the reporters’ section of Air Force Two.
Annie Karni writes:
Instead, seated on Air Force Two in a space normally reserved for a White House reporter was the vice president for communications at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has helped the Trump administration
fill jobs throughout the government and influenced policy decisions.
The foundation official, Robert B. Bluey, is also the executive editor of The Daily Signal, a news site run by the foundation to offer conservative commentary and analysis.
On Wednesday, he joined Mr. Pence, who spoke at a “Faith in America” event in Clearwater. Mr. Bluey filled the role of the pool reporter, one of the journalists who travel with the president or the vice president, filing reports on their movements and activities throughout the day, and providing the rest of the White House press corps with a first cut of any news of the day.
The White House has increasingly nurtured relationships with conservative news outlets, including One America News Network, an organization that has been granted special permission to send a reporter to the briefing room despite restrictions put in effect by the White House Correspondents’ Association to keep reporters safe during the coronavirus pandemic. And the administration has long elevated niche outlets that cover it more favorably, while the president has systematically cast doubt on mainstream news organizations by referring to them as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.”
From this, you’d think that Vice President Mike Pence booted a regular pool reporter from his seat to replace him with some conservative policy wonk. Not really. Here’s the penultimate paragraph of the piece:
Multiple members of the White House press corps who have been reporting from the White House or traveling with the president have tested positive for the virus. The White House Correspondents’ Association put out a call for reporters earlier in the week seeking a volunteer to cover Mr. Pence’s day trip to Florida as part of the pool. When the organization was unable to fill the slot, Mr. Pence’s office chose the print pooler instead, according to someone familiar with the process. The correspondents’ association declined to comment.
So not only is it supposed to be scandalous that a conservative journalist got access to cover an official Pence outing, but also that Bluey only filled the seat because the WHCA couldn’t find anyone else.
The double standard would be staggering enough if Bluey weren’t a practicing journalist for two decades. But it’s even more appalling given that the legacy media did not at all mind ThinkProgress, the now-defunct progressive news site run by the Center for American Progress, getting top access to cover the Obama administration, even while the White House was trying to dictate its coverage from behind the scenes. As former ThinkProgress writer Zaid Jilani exposed, the Obama administration successfully pressured ThinkProgress into silencing criticism of the war in Afghanistan. And ThinkProgress journalists got premier access to Obama, including off-the-record meetings among top cable news reporters.
In fact, the first real scandal ThinkProgress faced after strong-arming Jilani into leaving over his failure to toe the Obama administration’s line on Israel was when Republican politicians started barring ThinkProgress reporters from their events.
And there’s no evidence that the Daily Signal has followed the same White House marching orders that ThinkProgress did. While Heritage has maintained a close working relationship with the White House that most top think tanks do, the Daily Signal’s news coverage — not its commentary, which is explicitly conservative — is about as straight as you’ll find. You can read Bluey’s piece on the Pence event to see how.
After an eight-year vacation, the media are now suddenly concerned with supposed sycophants in the press pool. One has to wonder if their concern would persist into a Biden administration.