Ever consider the accuracy of the information about health care reform we receive from the mainstream press (I’m full of rhetorical questions of late)? Reporter Dana Milbank recounts a fascinating exchange between White House spokesman Robert Gibbs and press grand dame Helen Thomas, someone who should have retired in the Johnson Administration. What’s shocking is that Milbank sees it not as an example of unhinged bias on the part of Thomas (and indeed the entire White House Press Corp), but as a celebration of her “backbone.” Clearly she wants a public option, and rather than do her job and report facts, she uses her time to chastise the administration for what she sees as giving up. No matter your political affiliation or how you might feel about a public option, the overwhelming one-sidedness of journalists with direct access to the White House should chill us all. No wonder our clients are nervous, anxious, confused, (all of the above) about this issue. From last week’s Washington Post (emphasis in bold is mine):
Helen Thomas is 89 years old and requires some assistance to get to and from the daily White House briefing. Yet her backbone has proved stronger than that of the president she covers.
On Thursday afternoon, Thomas gave a clinic in fortitude to President Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, during the briefing.
“Has the president given up on the public option?” she inquired from her front-row-middle seat.
The press secretary laughed at this repetition of a common Thomas inquiry, but this questioner, who has covered every president since Kennedy, wasn’t about to be silenced.
“I ask it day after day because it has great meaning in this country, and you never answer it,” she said.
“Well, I — I — I apparently don’t answer it to your satisfaction,” Gibbs stammered.
“That’s right,” Thomas snarled.
“I — I’ll — I’ll give you the same answer that I gave you unsatisfactorily for many of those other days,” Gibbs offered. “It’s what the president believes in –”
“Is he going to fight for it or not?” Thomas snapped.
“We’re going to work to get choice and competition into health-care reform” was Gibbs’s vague response.
Thomas took that as a no. “You’re not going to get it,” she advised.
“Then why do you keep asking me?” Gibbs inquired.
“Because I want your conscience to bother you,” Thomas replied. The room erupted; Gibbs reddened.