One consequence of the controversy over the deaths of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans in the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, is the growing public awareness of close ties between some in the broadcast media and in the White House.
Ben Sherwood, the president of ABC News, has a sister, Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, who is the special assistant to President Barack Obama.
Last November, Virginia Moseley left her job a news producer with ABC News after 18 years (most recently working as the senior Washington producer for “Good Morning America”) to join CNN as vice president and deputy bureau chief of its D.C. bureau. She’s married to Tom Nides, who was a deputy secretary of state for management and resources (meaning his boss used to be Secretary Hillary Clinton, who headed the agency at the time of the Benghazi incident).
In addition, CBS News President David Rhodes‘ brother Ben Rhodes is the president’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication and was reportedly was involved in the editing of the talking points released to the public about the Benghazi attack.
Asked about the links between the press and the administration, Tapper tells Zap2it, “I don’t think it’s new so much as, now, because of the explosion of information, that people know things that they did not know before, which is obviously a healthy thing. So, yes, people know now about siblings and spouses and all sorts of things.
“But I can tell you that, in my experience, I think I covered Benghazi aggressively when I was at ABC News. Ben Sherwood is the president of ABC News, and even if his sister is a White House staffer, that played no role, and he encouraged my reporting.
“The same is true here at CNN, that I am encouraged to be an aggressive reporter on every story — aggressive and accurate. So whatever relationships may exist — familial ones in executive ranks or elsewhere — they have played zero role in my reporting, either at ABC News or CNN.”
Regarding how the public — which has a generally dim view of the trustworthiness of the mainstream media — may view these relationships, Tapper says, “I don’t know what the public thinks. I think people impugn motivations unfairly, based on these familial relationships. I know so many great reporters in this town that would never allow themselves to be influenced by anything like that.
“You’re talking about CNN, ABC News and CBS News — it is in the interests of CNN, ABC News and CBS News to be aggressive watchdogs for the truth. Those motivations, I guarantee you, are much more important to any executive at any news organization than currying favor with a family member.
“We all want to be seen as professionals, and we all want to do our jobs as effectively as possible. In this media environment, the public needs aggressive media watchdogs now more than ever.”
While Tapper admits that the mainstream media can fall down on the job in covering certain stories, he holds himself to a higher standard.
“I am more a believer in the collegiality [of journalists],” he says. “We are together, us, we are supposed to fight to hold people in power accountable. I’m a big believer in following up people’s questions.
“There was one time during a press briefing that President Obama called on me, and I asked him to first answer the question of the guy who came before me, and I think he referred to me as the ombudsman of the press corps.”
With a variety of controversial stories hitting the White House — from Benghazi to the IRS admitting it targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, to revelations that the Justice Department acquired phone records of AP reporters, and phone logs and emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen — the White House Press Corps has shown more aggressiveness in questioning Press Secretary Jay Carney and the president than it has at times in the past.
In response to a suggestion that the White House Press Corps has suddenly woken up, Tapper says, “No comment.”