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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 11:39 AM ET, 07/02/2012

Daily Caller escapes sanction from WHCA


Neil Munro of the Daily Caller listens to President Barack Obama as he responds to his interruption during an announcement, Friday, June 15, 2012, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari) (Haraz N. Ghanbari - AP)
Chapter 1: Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro interrupts remarks by President Obama during an announcement on immigration policy at the White House on Friday, June 15. The interruptions come in the form of questions and heckles right smack in the middle of the president’s remarks.

Chapter 2: Washington agrees to agree on Munro’s rudeness, as a bipartisan coalition of scolders emerges.

Chapter 3: The Daily Caller refrains from apologizing for the outrageous conduct. Says Editor-in-Chief Tucker Carlson: “I don’t remember Diane Sawyer scolding her colleague Sam Donaldson for heckling President Reagan. And she shouldn’t have. A reporter’s job is to ask questions and get answers. Our job is to find out what the federal government is up to. Politicians often don’t want to tell us. A good reporter gets the story. We’re proud of Neil Munro.”

Chapter 4: Munro declines an interview request from the Erik Wemple Blog, saying that he’s “Too busy with health-care, etc.” He completes the work on health-care, etc., just in time to sneak in an interview on Fox News with Sean Hannity.

Chapter 5: White House low-profiles the issue, refraining from taking official action against Munro or the Daily Caller. For good reason, too: How could the White House have shamed the fellow more brutally than his own peers in the media had?

The Final Chapter: In a board meeting Friday afternoon, the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) declines to pursue sanctions against Munro or the Daily Caller. That said, the Munro situation claimed a prominent spot on the meeting’s agenda.

According to association Secretary Julie Mason, host of the Sirius XM satellite radio program “The Press Pool,” the topic was brought up by Fox News Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry, who on Aug. 1 is scheduled to assume the presidency of the association. Henry reported on an exchange he’d had with Tucker Carlson regarding the Daily Caller’s standing at the White House. (Henry didn’t respond to e-mails on the matter.)

The Daily Caller has a role in the in-town pool coverage of the president, meaning that it’s one of the outlets that sends reporters to presidential events. Those reporters then pass along dispatches about the goings-on to other media organizations. Participation in this rotating assignment is a mark of prestige.

And the Daily Caller was apparently concerned that Munro’s misdeeds had imperiled its standing in the rotation. So Carlson signed this letter to WHCA, which Mason read to me over the phone (it’ll eventually appear in the association’s minutes):

To the Correspondents’ Association:
The Daily Caller has been part of the in-town pool rotation for more than two years. During that time, I’m not aware of any complaints about the behavior or coverage of our reporters while serving in the pool. We understand that the purupose of the pool is to serve the press corps at large and we take that responsibility seriously. We’re grateful to be part of it.
Sincerely,
Tucker Carlson
Editor in Chief, The Daily Caller

The letter helps color in the Daily Caller’s central personality conflict. On the one hand, it relishes presenting itself as an anti-establishment news source, especially when it has gone and done something stupid; on the other, it craves mainstream respectability.

It’ll take more than a bout of Friday-afternoon heckling, it appears, to send the Daily Caller into the D.C. wilderness. “We were all pissed about what happened,” says Mason. “But it’s a big leap from being pissed to taking action against a news organization. We also felt that despite the statements made afterwards [by Carlson et. al.] that this is what reporters should be doing, all the bravura talk — we didn’t feel that this was an incident that would be repeated.”

Outgoing WHCA President Caren Bohan of Reuters had this to say: “Although everyone I’ve talked to in our membership thinks that Neil Munro’s behavior was out-of-line, I have not heard a big clamor for a formal censure from the WHCA, such as action to expel Daily Caller from the pool. Many of the members I have spoken with think that the widespread criticism he has gotten speaks for itself.”

Correct — associations that thrive on the First Amendment had better not develop trigger fingers when it comes to stifling their peers. Two years ago, the association scolded Helen Thomas for making anti-Semitic comments but tries to stay out of the business of statement-making.

Yet what’s telling about these events is that the WHCA appears to have explored the ethics and implications of Munro’s behavior far more deeply than his own employer, which jumped to his reflexive and unthinking defense. As my colleague Dana Milbank has suggested, the only one who should be censuring Neil Munro is the Daily Caller itself, and it appears to see the whole thing as a laughing matter.

Journalist Carlson, who spun the Munro controversy into a question of accountability, declined to comment in any meaningful way on his interactions with the WHCA. To a series of e-mailed questions, he responded, “Thereto?”

By  |  11:39 AM ET, 07/02/2012

Tags:  daily caller, tucker carlson, neil munro, president barack obama, heckling, ed henry

 
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