NEW YORK (AP) — Ed Henry’s assignment covering the White House would be a challenge for any journalist, no matter his employer.
Yet Henry works at Fox News Channel, home base for viewers who longed for President Barack Obama’s defeat. More than anyone, he understands how the natural adversarial role of reporting on the highest level of government has become complicated in recent years by the rise in partisan media and online critics who parse every word reporters and anchors say.
“It definitely puts pressure on all of us,” Henry said, “and if you step out and ask tough questions, you’re somehow seen as a partisan now — even if it’s a substantive question and even if it’s a fair question.”
Henry, 41, is preparing for four more years on the beat and would like to cover the Obama administration from beginning to end. He came to Fox in 2011 from CNN, for whom he had worked in Washington since 2004 (his wife, Shirley Hung, is a CNN producer). Prior to getting into television, the Queens, N.Y., native worked in print at Roll Call.
He said he brings to his coverage the desire to hold public officials of each party accountable for their actions, and no ideological point of view.
Fox has never denied that prime-time stars like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are opinionated. Daytime hours and programs hosted by Shepard Smith and Bret Baier are set aside for news, although it’s naive to suggest there’s no point of view.
Three recent episodes illustrate the point. Fox aired 27 minutes of Obama speaking during four days just before the election — compared to 168 minutes of Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America noted. Author Thomas Rick’s interview on Fox last week was abruptly cut short when he accused the network of “operating as a wing of the Republican Party” with its coverage of the September terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Fox News chief Roger Ailes encouraged David Petreaus to run for president, although Ailes said he was joking.
For a reporter like Henry, Fox “frames the work, you can’t escape that,” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief and professor at George Washington University. The setting adds another layer of scrutiny.
“It’s very difficult when you work for an organization where the opinion page is on the front page,” said Sesno, who hired Henry as a paid fellow at George Washington last year.
Henry has had two tense moments with Obama at news conferences. At one, Henry asked Obama why it had taken the president several days to express anger about bonuses given to AIG insurance executives. Obama responded that “it took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”
When Henry asked Obama to respond to a Romney comment that “if you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president,” Obama said that, “I didn’t know you were the spokesman for Mitt Romney.”
The first incident happened while Henry worked at CNN, the second when he was at Fox.
Arguably, for an interview subject, the first question would be more objectionable: it infers that Obama has been slow to move on an issue. The second was simply asking for a response to a critic’s statement, something reporters do every day.
Henry and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney have gone back-and-forth in some briefings, with Carney once suggesting that “you’re creating a thing here for Fox.” But they appear to have a solid working relationship. Henry said the White House has never retaliated against him for any of his work, or because of anger at his network.
“Like every other professional journalist who covers the White House, we don’t like every word that Ed has said on camera, but we work with him every day to provide the access and information that he needs to communicate to a sizable audience what’s happening at the White House,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Benghazi has proven an interesting case study. Henry rejects the notion that he works off Fox marching orders in discussing the issue, but said, “I wouldn’t lie to you. I see that we’re covering Benghazi a lot, and I think that should be something that we’re asking about.”
He said other news outlets have under-covered the story, since four Americans were killed and there’s still some mystery about what the administration knew and when they knew about the attack.
“We’ve had the proper emphasis,” he said. “But I would not be so deluded to say that some of our shows, some of our commentators, have covered it more than it needed to be covered.”
Henry is keenly aware of the “noise machine,” bloggers like Media Matters who quickly pounce on work they consider objectionable. He suggested that MSNBC host Chuck Todd, who also works for NBC News, doesn’t get the same level of critical attention paid to his work even though MSNBC is clearly slanted left.
As a young reporter, Henry said he looked up to former White House correspondents like Sam Donaldson, famed for shouting questions at President Ronald Reagan. “Now if you shout a question at Obama, you’re somehow seen as a bad guy,” he said. “I think some people have been cowed.”
Donaldson, now 78, recalled angry letters he had gotten from Republicans about his coverage of the Reagan administration. When he covered President Bill Clinton’s second term from ABC and asked tough questions, Republicans wrote to compliment him on his maturity, he said.
He had his boss’ support and didn’t have to look over his shoulder at blogs, said Donaldson, who considers Henry “one of the best” on the beat now.
“It’s not that they are all afraid and cringe, because they don’t,” Donaldson said. “But it’s so much tougher to do it in every way.”
His advice on dealing with the critics: “You just have to try to ignore them.”
Henry said he tries.
For all of the attention that Henry’s work gets from people with strong political points of view, Sesno said it would probably have been more difficult for him if Romney had won the election.
His theory is that most Fox viewers don’t mind if Henry is tough on Obama. Showing such toughness on someone that many of his viewers are sympathetic toward would be a lot harder.
EDITOR’S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/dbauder.
More Related Stories
- How Dan Savage lost it
- Nancy Jo Sales on L.A. celeb robbers: "The Bling Ring kids were depressed"
- “Arrested Development,” hurry up and get here so you can stop being so annoying
- Must-do's: What we like this week
- Josh Ritter makes his "Blood on the Tracks"
- I don't hate millennials anymore!
- What's 2013's "Gone Girl"? Here are this summer's best reads
- Fox executive behind "Does Someone Have to Go?" leaving the network
- Hillary Clinton memoir shows up on Amazon
- A brief history of Jennifer Weiner's literary fights
- First look: Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard shine in "The Immigrant”
- No women allowed: Summer music festivals are dudefests, again
- Vivica A. Fox tapes anti-gun PSA in front of poster for her movie
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Mariah Carey's rambling, cursing, dress-popping "Good Morning America" concert
- Fox's new reality TV show threatens regular people with unemployment
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Steamy lesbian-sex movie has Cannes abuzz
- Stop what you're doing and go watch "Borgen"
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11