Last Friday, Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry got up and stormed out of a press briefing after Jay Carney repeatedly ignored him while he attempted to ask a question. While Carney and Henry have had a contentious relationship for some time, with Carney going so far as to label Henry a partisan opponent to the Obama administration, this was the first time anyone can remember that Carney has completely shut out and shut down Henry, not calling on a Fox News reporter at all. While it may seem shocking and somewhat questionable for Carney to deliberately snub a journalist within the official White House press corps, regardless of who that journalist is or what outlet he or she works for, Ed Henry is no regular journalist and Fox News is no regular outlet. Anyone who argues differently either doesn't truly grasp reality in this situation or isn't willing to accept it. Here's why Carney is right to ignore Henry or at the very least not extend him the same professional courtesies as the other members of the press corps.
1. Fox News Isn't "News"
It's as simple as that, and we could really stop right here if we felt like it. There are genuine journalists working at Fox News, but with the exception of a very select few they all work toward the same cause. And that's where Fox News differs from every other major news organization on the planet: it has a political agenda, a confirmation bias that it adheres to at all times and from which it works backward in almost every facet of its reporting. What's more, that agenda is immutable and omnipresent because unlike the occasional biases that can infect a newsroom through the personalities of the various people working within it -- the equivalent of cracks in a wall -- Fox News's bias is built in to the point of being an unacknowledged mission statement. It comes in the form of a top-down edict issued by management. Ed Henry conforms to and advances this agenda perfectly, which means that he approaches the current White House not from the point-of-view of someone who's adversarial but fair, but as someone who is determined at all times to thwart the Obama presidency, objectivity be damned. What's interesting is that Henry came to Fox from CNN, and another CNN defector to Fox, John Roberts, actually spelled out in an interview what makes Fox different from most news outlets:
"It's really interesting to work for a place that has the vision of one person that immediately gets disseminated to everyone across the board. You don't have a huge flow chart that goes through myriad branches before it goes down to the troops. Basically you have Roger (Ailes), and then a couple of people he has as his trusted lieutenants, and then there's the rest of us. There's very little left to interpretation when it comes to what we're doing. Everybody gets the message."
Roberts insists that the message is simply to tell a good story, but anyone who's watched Fox News for any length of time understands that the real message is self-evident: with very few exceptions, Fox News is the bullhorn of the American right. It doesn't simply report the news, it creates it, spinning scandal out of thin air and perpetuating it; elevating and promoting political movements it deems to run parallel to its own opinions; willfully lying and either ignoring exculpatory information in the wake of its own bad reporting or purposely withholding it so that the original faulty message can do the most possible damage to its enemies; casting politically biased journalistic wet-work as objective reporting. It is, in a word, propaganda. And Ed Henry is the figurative tip of the spear in Fox News's 24/7 attack on the Obama administration. There's no reason to see him as anything but that.
2. There's Nothing To Gain By Deferring To Fox News
This is an argument of practicality rather than ethics, but there's just no reason for the White House to ever be nice to Fox News. Doing so will win it absolutely no favor whatsoever, with favor in this case being a willingness to report on the Obama administration fairly and accurately. No matter what Jay Carney says to Ed Henry, it's going to come out the other end spun in such a way as to make the White House look bad, or even deflective. Henry regularly pelts Carney with questions that appear cleverly pugnacious but are, in reality, nonsense designed merely to elicit a snarky response or no response at all, either of which fulfills the same need for Fox News. If Henry had gotten his question in on Friday, no matter how Carney answered it almost assuredly would have played negatively on Fox News. Carney knows this and he seems to have finally realized that Ed Henry indignantly saying on national television that the White House ignored him is the same thing as Ed Henry doing one of his usual reports from his post. The "damage" is equal either way, so why bother?
3. There's No Ethical Argument Here
See #1. If you're dealing with a journalistic outlet that will never under any circumstances give you a truly fair shake, not only are you not beholden to the strictures that usually govern the political spokesperson-press relationship, you're not the one to blame for renouncing that relationship. If an outlet is propaganda and not press in the traditional sense, then the traditional rules don't apply. What's unfortunate is that Fox News is remarkably good at exploiting its enemies, taking on the role of the aggressively victimized and using the code that's the foundation of good journalism against the entire enterprise. It humbly bows and courts the outrage and fraternity of its fellow journalists whenever it can use being supposedly wronged by the government to its advantage, when in reality it behaves nothing like those other journalists. It adheres to none of their regulations and honors none of their moral obligations. It's a news organization in name only, and yet it begs the protection and privileges afforded to those whose journalistic methods and beliefs it laughs in the face of. And it usually gets the sympathy it's looking for, often from real journalists afraid that assailing Fox News is some disavowing of the First Amendment and that eventually it's they who will be "censored." Except that it won't be -- not as long as those journalists continue to operate in the fierce but ethical manner that's guided good journalism for centuries. Fox News is certainly fierce, but it's the furthest thing from ethical. And if it's made it known that it won't play by the rules, then no one dealing with it should have to either. To do so makes you nothing more than a chump.