Peter Baker, the White House correspondent for the New York Times, is very worried about the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo's membership in the White House press pool:
“This is really troubling,” said New York Times reporter Peter Baker in an email to POLITICO. “We’re blurring the line between news and punditry even further and opening ourselves to legitimate questions among readers about where the White House press corps gets its information.”
Baker said he has no problem with outlets like Huffington Post, which he described “an important part of the marketplace of ideas.” But the site, he said, has a mission “to produce pieces with strongly argued points of view” and that puts the Times—or other non-partisan news organizations—“in a position of relying on overtly ideological or opinionated organizations as our surrogate news gatherers.”
Ed Chen, the president of the White House Correspondent's Association and a reporter for Bloomberg, has the appropriate rejoinders:
Chen, however, said “the world is not reliant entirely on one pool report,” pointing out that there are also television and radio reporters, photographers, and three wire services following the president daily.
Chen said that the board—and everyone who receives the reports in their inbox—will be able to quickly see if a pool reporter is making errors and transgressions, whether ideological or not.
Chen's second point is really critical. Christina Bellatoni and Sam Stein, TPM and HuffPo's White House correspondents, respectively, are not amateurs. Bellatoni, in fact, wrote pool reports as a staffer at the Washington Times -- an outlet if anything more slanted than TPM or HuffPo -- and surely knows the difference between an objective pool report and a slanted one. What's more, I would assume that the prospect of having one's colleagues notice a slant -- especially for organizations whose place in the White House press pool is somewhat precarious -- is incentive enough for Stein and Bellatoni to be very careful in writing their reports.
This logic only fails if one doubts the ability or willingness of Bellatoni or Stein to write objectively. Baker's implicit attack on their skills or character, then, is fairly unseemly.