White House re­porter Henry in a tough spot

Me­dia en­vi­ron­ment ‘puts pres­sure on all of us,’ Fox News re­porter says.

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - By David Bauder Chief White House Cor­re­spon­dent Ed Henry re­port­ing out­side of the White House in Washington, D.C. Henry, 41, is pre­par­ing for four more years on the beat and would like to cover the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion from be­gin­ning to end. He came to Fo

NEWYORK — Ed Henry’s as­sign­ment cov­er­ing the White House would be a chal­lenge for any jour­nal­ist, no mat­ter his em­ployer.

Yet Henry works at Fox News Chan­nel, home base for view­ers who longed for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s de­feat. More than any­one, he un­der­stands how the nat­u­ral ad­ver­sar­ial role of re­port­ing on the high­est level of government has be­come com­pli­cated in re­cent years by the rise in par­ti­san me­dia and on­line crit­ics who parse ev­ery word re­porters and an­chors say.

“It def­i­nitely puts pres­sure on all of us,” Henry said, “and if you step out and ask tough ques­tions, you’re some­how seen as a par­ti­san now — even if it’s a sub­stan­tive ques­tion and even if it’s a fair ques­tion.”

Henry, 41, is pre­par­ing for four more years on the beat and would like to cover the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion from be­gin­ning to end. He came to Fox in 2011 from CNN, for whom he had worked in Washington since 2004 (his wife, Shirley Hung, is a CNN pro­ducer). Prior to get­ting into tele­vi­sion, the Queens, N.Y., na­tive worked in print at Roll Call.

He said he brings to his cov­er­age the de­sire to hold pub­lic of­fi­cials of each party ac­count­able for their ac­tions, and no ide­o­log­i­cal point of view.

Fox has never de­nied that prime-time stars like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Han­nity are opin­ion­ated. Day­time hours and pro­grams hosted by Shep­ard Smith and Bret Baier are set aside for news, although it’s naive to sug­gest there’s no point of view.

Three re­cent episodes il­lus­trate the point. Fox aired 27 min­utes of Obama speak­ing dur­ing four days just be­fore the elec­tion — com­pared to 168 min­utes of Repub­li­can chal­lenger Mitt Rom­ney, the lib­eral watch­dog Me­dia Mat­ters for Amer­ica noted. Au­thor Thomas Rick’s in­ter­view on Fox two weeks ago was abruptly cut short when he ac­cused the net­work of “op­er­at­ing as a wing of the Repub­li­can Party” with its cov­er­age of the Septem­ber ter­ror­ist at­tack in Beng­hazi, Libya. The Washington Post re­ported Tues­day that Fox News chief Roger Ailes en­cour­aged David Pe­treaus to run for pres­i­dent, although Ailes said he was jok­ing.

For a re­porter like Henry, Fox “frames the work, you can’t es­cape that,” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief and pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity. The set­ting adds an­other layer of scru­tiny.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult when you work for an or­ga­ni­za­tion where the opin­ion page is on the front page,” said Sesno, who hired Henry as a paid fel­low at Ge­orge Washington last year.

Henry and White House Press Sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney have gone backand-forth in some brief­ings, with Car­ney once sug­gest­ing that “you’re cre­at­ing a thing here for Fox.” But they ap­pear to have a solid work­ing re­la­tion­ship. Henry said the White House has never re­tal­i­ated against him for any of his work, or be­cause of anger at his net­work.

“Like ev­ery other pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ist who cov­ers the White House, we don’t like ev­ery word that Ed has said on cam­era, but we work with him ev­ery day to pro­vide the ac­cess and in­for­ma­tion that he needs to com­mu­ni­cate to a siz­able au­di­ence what’s hap­pen­ing at the White House,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Beng­hazi has proven an in­ter­est­ing case study. Henry re­jects the no­tion that he works off Fox march­ing or­ders in dis­cussing the is­sue, but said, “I wouldn’t lie to you. I see that we’re cov­er­ing Beng­hazi a lot, and I think that should be some­thing that we’re ask­ing about.”

He said other news out­lets have un­der-cov­ered the story, since four Amer­i­cans were killed and there’s still some mys­tery about what the ad­min­is­tra­tion knew and when they knew about the at­tack.

“We’ve had the proper em­pha­sis,” he said. “But I would not be so de­luded to say that some of our shows, some of our com­men­ta­tors, have cov­ered it more than it needed to be cov­ered.”

Henry is keenly aware of the “noise ma­chine,” blog­gers like Me­dia Mat­ters who quickly pounce on work they con­sider ob­jec­tion­able. He sug­gested that MSNBC host Chuck Todd, who also works for NBC News, doesn’t get the same level of crit­i­cal at­ten­tion paid to his work even though MSNBC is clearly slanted left.

As a young re­porter, Henry said he looked up to former White House cor­re­spon­dents like Sam Don­ald­son, famed for shout­ing ques­tions at Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan. “Now if you shout a ques­tion at Obama, you’re some­how seen as a bad guy,” he said. “I think some peo­ple have been cowed.”

Don­ald­son, now 78, re­called an­gry let­ters he had got­ten from Repub­li­cans about his cov­er­age of the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion. When he cov­ered Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s sec­ond term from ABC and asked tough ques­tions, Repub­li­cans wrote to com­pli­ment him on his ma­tu­rity, he said.

He had his boss’ sup­port and didn’t have to look over his shoul­der at blogs, said Don­ald­son, who con­sid­ers Henry “one of the best” on the beat now.

“It’s not that they are all afraid and cringe, be­cause they don’t,” Don­ald­son said. “But it’s so much tougher to do it in ev­ery way.”

His ad­vice on deal­ing with the crit­ics: “You just have to try to ig­nore them.” Henry said he tries. For all of the at­ten­tion that Henry’s work gets from peo­ple with strong po­lit­i­cal points of view, Sesno said it would prob­a­bly have been more dif­fi­cult for him if Rom­ney had won the elec­tion.

His the­ory is that most Fox view­ers don’t mind if Henry is tough on Obama. Show­ing such tough­ness on some­one that many of his view­ers are sym­pa­thetic to­ward would be a lot harder.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.