Back in October 2009, during President Barack Obama’s first year in the White House, his press team brushed back ever so softly against the right-wing partisans at Fox News, only to have one of the most preeminent reporters in the mainstream press, Jake Tapper, rush to the racist network’s defense.
At the time Tapper, who is now arguably the most prominent face on CNN, was working as the White House correspondent for ABC News.
Robert Gibbs, Obama’s press secretary, accurately described the network as “not a news organization.” At that point, Fox had been on the air for 13 years and had provided ample evidence to justify Gibbs’ point. They had furthered numerous conspiracies, including the falsehood that President Obama was educated at an Islamic madrassa, along with years and years of lies about Democrats and progressives that had been debunked by fact checkers of various political persuasions.
Despite all of this, Tapper took umbrage to the characterization of Fox and during the press briefing, chose to challenge Gibbs on Fox’s behalf.
From the official transcript (October 20, 2009):
TAPPER: It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations “not a news organization” and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one?
GIBBS: Jake, we render, we render an opinion based on some of their coverage and the fairness that, the fairness of that coverage.
TAPPER: But that’s a pretty sweeping declaration that they are “not a news organization.” How are they any different from, say –
GIBBS: ABC –
TAPPER: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?
GIBBS: You and I should watch sometime around 9 o’clock tonight. Or 5 o’clock this afternoon.
TAPPER: I’m not talking about their opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports. I’m talking about saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a “news organization” — why is that appropriate for the White House to say?
GIBBS: That’s our opinion.
Ironically, but not surprisingly, this episode did not inspire Fox to pursue legitimate journalism. The network spent the subsequent 12 years and counting doing what it does best: Lying, smearing, upholding misogyny and racism.
Tapper isn’t responsible for all of Fox’s faults, and for all his missteps at ABC and CNN he is not as inaccurate or dishonest as the employees of his “sister organization.” But that moment helped Fox News. It helped them with a veneer of legitimacy they do not deserve. Jake Tapper helped.