Exclusive: Helen Thomas On Fox News’ Front Row Seat “Too Bad!”

It may sound corny to some, but Helen Thomas is never very far a way from my thoughts, but the occasion of the White House Correspondents Association’s re-assignment of her iconic front-row center seat in the Brady Briefing Room provided me with the impetus to speak with Helen for the first time since her controversial retirement. I called her this afternoon to reconnect, and to get her reaction to the news. I was surprised to learn that my call was the first she’d heard of it. Her reaction, and those of some of our colleagues, after the jump.

When I asked her if she’d like to say a few words about the Associated Press’ assignment to her old seat, she said “The Associated Press? I thought they already had a (front row) seat.”

I explained that they would be moving to the center seat, a scenario that I floated in June in response to Chris Wallace’s gloating on the matter.  She asked “Well, who’s getting their old seat?”

I told her it would be Fox News.

“Too bad.” she replied. Asked to elaborate, she said “What do I think of it? I think that I have no say, no power over that anymore…I hope they do a good job.”

I told her I was sure they would. Major Garrett and Wendell Goler are credits to the profession of journalism.

I also took the opportunity to thank Helen for being such a good friend and role model in the year-and-a-half we worked together. She sounded good, better than I’ve ever heard her when she wasn’t having a go at Robert Gibbs. She also sent her love to her former colleagues.

Other reactions included Major Garrett’s characteristically humble spreading of the credit to his colleagues at Fox News:

Those of us who will sit in the front owe a debt to Jim Angle, Carl Cameron, Bret Baier and network that supported them.

New York Daily News correspondent Ken Bazinet agrees that “The board got this decision right. This was a no-brainer from the start. Fox has the numbers to back up it’s argument for moving and AP indeed belongs front and center.”

White House uber-tweeter Mark Knoller remarked, “You don’t need a front row seat to cover the White House skillfully.”

While the big story here is the front row, Knoller is absolutely right. The practical difference between 2nd and 1st rows is almost nonexistent. The ripples of these moves will be felt more by people like my friend Bill Press, who says “I think it was a Solomonesque decision that will offend no one. The main advantage? Now maybe Gibbs will more readily get to the fourth and fifth rows – where the best questions come from!”

Like Knoller, The Daily Caller’s Jon Ward has a suggestion for better question equity. “Its what I expected and Fox deserves to join the other networks there. I’m very happy that the foreign press outlets now have a dedicated chair as well. I’d still like to see a pool seat in the first three rows so reporters from different outlets can rotate in and get a chance to break into the regular pattern of questioners.”

For most of us, that front-row center seat will always be Helen Thomas’ seat. In the month following her resignation, it remained empty during briefings, but it remained the first destination for visitors to the Brady Briefing Room, press and non-press alike. After exactly one month, USA Today’s David Jackson became the first of a very few reporters who got to sit in Helen’s seat before it was reassigned. Only 5 White House reporters can claim that privilege, and here they are:

I confess that, aside from Jackson, I only recognize Ebony Magazine’s Kevin Chapell and HuffPo’s Sam Stein. I’ve only sat in the front row once, and was so unnerved, I never tried it again.

Still unknown is what will happen to Helen’s nameplate. Given time and context, I hope that this symbol of Helen’s historic importance is given a place of honor on the wall of the Brady Briefing Room in which she worked for so many years.

Senator John Kyl: Illegal Aliens’ Kids Shouldn’t Be Citizens

Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) made some news yesterday during an appearance on CBS’ Face The Nation, when he told fill-in Harry Smith that Congress should hold look into denying citizenship to illegal aliens’ children born in the U.S. Kyl claimed that he supported fellow Sen. Lindsey Graham’s call to introduce a new amendment to repeal the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

Writing for CBSNews.com, Jimmy So reports:

Support is growing for this stunning reversal from Graham, who in 2007 drew the ire of Republicans when he lobbied for granting legal status to 12 million undocumented workers, and along with President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., led the failed immigration reform effort that would have given illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

The 14th Amendment was enacted in 1868 to ensure that states would not deny citizenship to former slaves. It reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Arizona’s Republican State Sen. Russell Pearce – the architect of the controversial immigration law that was largely struck down by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton – also separately proposed the same measure.

“The 14th Amendment [has been] interpreted to provide that if you are born in the United States, you are a citizen no matter what,” Kyl said. “So the question is, if both parents are here illegally, should there be a reward for their illegal behavior?”

With immigration a big issue in the upcoming mid-terms, support for this bill appears to be growing among Republicans, perhaps seeing this as a litmus test in the upcoming elections.

Overheard At The “Bold & Fresh” Show

This past weekend the Bill O’Reilly/Glenn Beck sold-out ‘Bold Fresh’ tour made a stop in Long Island. I’m not sure how many people associate Glenn Beck’s fan base with New York State, but considering cars were lined up all the way from the highway exit to the Westbury Theater I think it’s safe to say he and O’Reilly (a native of Long Island) don’t do too badly here.

Perhaps what was most surprising about the show was not what either Beck or O’Reilly had to say; certainly fans of Beck would recognize his half hour monologue as a somewhat livelier, funnier version of the how he opens his show. What was most surprising was that every single conversation I overheard, be it in the concession line, the bathroom line, or in the theater itself had to do with politics. It was a bit like being in one of Beck’s hand-picked studio audiences but writ large. And to be clear, O’Reilly may have been the native son here, and technically the headliner, but it was fairly apparent from the conversations I heard, and the general response of the audience (the best way I can think to describe it is ‘political evangelism’), most people were there for Beck.

Anyway, should you not have the chance to be fresh and/or bold for yourself here’s a little taste of what the experience sounds like (based solely on what I overheard).

    Couple seated in the row below me.

      — Did you see Obama on the View?
      — [Scowling] Yes, God he just went on and on.
      — I heard the other day he could raise money if he promised to stop talking.

    Couple seated behind me.

      – Do you think there are any people here that are not fans?
      – No I doubt it. Not with the price of these tickets.
      – They’d have to behave anyway, or security would toss them out quick.

    Overheard in the lobby during intermission.

      – I come home every day and feed the cats and then turn on Beck. I’m able to catch most of him.
      – Is that why I don’t get my dinner til 7:30?

    Also in the lobby:

      – O’Reilly used to do that sort of fluff on Inside Edition.

    A few other notes on the audience. Everyone was very friendly. The majority of the crowd was between 35-60 and white (I didn’t see one African American there). Every time either Beck or O’Reilly mentioned a media organization (other than Fox) the entire room booed very loudly (this was not a crowd timid with the holler-back). Also, merely as a point of interest, the crowd favorite for the 2012 GOP nomination appeared to be Newt Gingrich. Though I did spot one woman sporting a Beck 2012 t-shirt which she informed me she’d purchased online.

Glenn Beck And The Bees: A Night At The “Bold & Fresh Tour”

Glenn Beck was talking about bees – specifically, asking the audience at Saturday night’s “Bold & Fresh” tour if they would be surprised to see Pres. Barack Obama one day walk out of the White House, covered head to toe in bees, hovering around him, then shake them off, and see them form the presidential seal behind him.

It was a good laugh line – and the crowd erupted. But it served as the conclusion to a lengthier Beck ‘theory’ about why flies, rats and other insects and rodents appear to be ‘attracted’ to Pres. Obama. Is it because, as his co-star Bill O’Reilly suggested, he is the Antichrist? Well I’m not necessarily saying that, said Beck, smiling. Later in the show, O’Reilly brought it back up and Beck finally relented. “Oh come on,” he said. “I’m completely joking!”

But as I sat in the audience, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone in the 1,000+ crowd had bought into the complete jokes Beck mixed into his very real, and often convincing, conservative stumping.

Jokes aside, the Bold & Fresh Tour, which concluded its eight-show sold out run Saturday and returns in the Fall, was an entertaining two hours – especially for Fox News obsessive fans making up the audience. Beck kicked off the show, in a short-sleeve collared shirt, jeans and Converse sneakers, spending little time before dropping a “communist revolutionaries in the White House” line to uproarious applause.

He joked about his time at CNN, saying nothing could “kill the joy of working in TV faster.” Then, almost on cue, a woman in the front row who didn’t appear particularly excited to be there revealed she worked for CNN. The crowd booed. She had come to the show bringing her companion (father maybe?) for his birthday. Beck got serious several times during his 25-minute set, concluding with a rousing re-reading of the (like he did in his CPAC speech). “Give ME your TIRED, your POOR,” he boomed, highlighting the patriotism and fighting American spirit the statue represents.

Bill O’Reilly took the next half hour, and his approach was lighter than Beck’s. He joked about Sean Penn and Haiti (mimicking a Haitian resident: “I’d rather live in the tent, just go home Sean!”) and “community activist” Lupe Fiasco (he’s a rapper, actually, but the crowd didn’t seem to realize the mischaracterization). O’Reilly treated it like he was chatting with some friends at the dinner table – very conversational. I guess that’s why “waterboarding” became “dunking” as he discussed torture. The crowd loved O’Reilly, but not to the degree of Beck (although the couple next to me refused to say who they liked more – only that they loved both).

Beck and O’Reilly returned together for a joint segment after a brief intermission. It was essentially a longer verison of the funny/serious back-and-forths weekly on The O’Reilly Factor. Beck talked about his time at CNN again – “Anderson Cooper was nice to me” he noted. He also recounted his first meeting with Larry King. “So, you’re the Mormon,” he recalled King saying. And then there was the talk about bees and rats and “communist revolutionaries” in the White House. It certainly didn’t sound like Beck was joking about that last one.

Every mention of Eric Holder or Joe Biden came with a steady stream of boos and yells. References to voting for O’Reilly’s shoe over Pres. Obama in 2012 were met with applause and cheers. What Beck and O’Reilly said Saturday night wasn’t what made for some uncomfortable moments – but the way some comments were received certainly did. On a much smaller scale, it was like when Sen. John McCain met the Arab Lady – an unspoken realization that, hey lady, you have totally missed the point here.

As the crowd rose to its feet for a standing ovation, one woman in the front row remained notably seated. But she was busy anyway – Glenn Beck had come over to shake her hand.

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The Morning Lowdown 08.02.10

iPhone 4

Some of the stories people are talking about this morning:

»  The iPhone jailbreak courtesy of Comex had been plagued by over-extended servers, but it looks like some have finally gotten through to freeing their Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) device, now that it’s legal to do so. [Engadget]

»  Veteran journalist Buzz Bissinger once lamented the rise of blogs, Twitter and online media in general. No longer. David Carr assesses his conversion. [NYT]

»  Micro-funding and micropayments are among a mix of options newspapers should consider, including non-profit status. [Huffington Post]

»  The NYT has been conducting an online survey of print subscribers in an attempt to figure out how high to build the coming metered paywall. [MediaMemo]

»  Still don’t think readers will pay for online content? Yeah, well, people thought the same thing about TV until HBO came along in the mid-70s. Still, there is a lot of free content out there already… [WSJ]

»  There’s a new “Golden Age of TV” happening right now, but it’s occurring on cable, not broadcast. [The Wrap]

Fox News’ Dana Perino ‘Glad There’s A Website…To Keep Me Honest’

Last week, we called out Fox News’ Dana Perino (among others) for spreading a British newspaper account that gave misleading information about a diplomatic letter that was sent to the Scottish government regarding the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Much to her credit, Perino apologized on the air this morning, and in doing so, said she was “glad there’s a website out there that can track my every move and keep me honest.”

While I’d like to think she means us, it appears Dana Perino more likely was giving props to Fox News watchdog Media Matters.

Perino’s apology is spot-on, but even better than that is her now-clear-eyed analysis of the story. She talks about how, in her own experience in the White House, diplomatic correspondence of this sort is rarely carried out in public. That mirrors the Obama administration’s explanation that this letter was only made public to refute the inaccurate reporting of the British press, and by extension, Perino. Normally, the White House tells me, this kind of letter is never made public.

Perino may have been a tad sarcastic in her veiled praise for Media Matters, but hers is exactly the right attitude to take. All too often, when a media figure gets called out, the tendency is to point the finger elsewhere. It was refreshing to hear Perino own her mistake, and thank those who pointed it out.

There will be some who will note that her apology comes a week late, but I think it works out better that way. She’s speaking to the same audience who heard her initial report, and the distance from last week’s story gives the apology some air of its own to breathe.

Breaking: Sarah Palin Has No Balls

Whether you’re a fan of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin or not, it is a fairly indisputable fact that she lacks testes, as does Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. The second thing that came to mind when I read Palin’s cojone baloney, then, was this: When attempting to describe Brewer’s alleged courage, why did Palin feel the need to confer new gonads upon the Arizona Governor, as though she was playing pin the tail on the donkey? Hasn’t this sexist trope been hiding (or hanging) in plain sight for long enough?

The first thing that came to mind, of course, was the multi-layered irony lasagna of Palin as arbiter of sac. Glynnis MacNicol correctly judges her a media genius, but resigning a governorship and being scared away from non-Fox News media by Katie Couric do not exactly bespeak fortitude (although she deserves credit for defending her family, an area in which she can be forgiven the occasional overreach). Additionally, I find it odd that someone who so closely identifies with “family values” would resort to such sexualized imagery.

The use of male sex organs to describe courage, foolish or otherwise, is so thoroughly woven into our popular vocabulary that I doubt it will ever change, but it promotes the sexist idea that this is an inherently male trait. There is no strictly feminine corollary. In fact, the closest colloquial cousins to be used to describe a strong woman with gumption are things like “ballbreaker” and “bitch.”

But do men really deserve credit for all of this bravery? True courage is an exceptional trait, on that should not be considered the default setting for peno-Americans. Thus, when Ed Schultz calls Harry Reid “ball-less,” he’s making the presumption that every man possesses this exceptional trait, and by extension, that women do not. Unless Sarah Palin pins some balls on them.

Ironically, the increased use of this decidedly regressive term is due largely to our progressively more permissive popular culture. There are other, non-sexual metaphors like “guts,” but these lack the attention-getting “Oomph!” of a reference to, or a kick in, the balls. Sexual imagery is integral to our culture, and I wouldn’t want to f**k with that, but isn’t there a way to be a little more evenhanded about it?

As for Jan Brewer and Arizona’s immigration law, it seems I am in the minority in thinking that its enactment didn’t take balls, but rather, a whole bunch of a**holes.