BROOKE GLADSTONE: Vice President Joe Biden threw a beach-themed party for select members of the Washington press corps and their families at his residence last weekend. Reporters frolicked with Biden and Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, while other senior White House officials took aim at the press with water guns. Some media critics argued that the pictures posted of the event were just more evidence of the palsy-walsy relationship between the White House and the press that’s supposed to be holding it accountable. CNN’s senior White House correspondent Ed Henry’s beach party tweets and video drew particular attention in the blogosphere. Ed, welcome to On the Media.
ED HENRY: Thanks, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So I was looking at your Twitter feed. “Rahm was chasing Mrs. Biden, and she hid behind me [ED HENRY LAUGHS], so I got in the crosshairs.”
ED HENRY: [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: “A little girl just hit the VP in the face with some water.” You can see how this might make people who want –
[ED HENRY LAUGHS] - a challenging press corps that holds -
ED HENRY: Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - the feet of power to the fire distinctly uncomfortable.
ED HENRY: No, I don't, actually. I think people are losing a sense of humor sometimes. I mean, I posted a tweet about Vice President Biden sliding down a water slide with some kids. I added, I think in all caps, “EXCLUSIVE VIDEO.”
[BROOKE LAUGHS] The notion that we're working 24/7, holding their feet to fire every single second, and you can't actually stop to have a conversation or, God forbid, go to the vice president’s house, somehow democracy is compromised – I think people have to look at the whole picture. And if you look, for example, at what I do on a daily basis with Robert Gibbs in the briefing room at the White House, I hardly think that Robert Gibbs thinks that I give him an easy time or that going to a White House holiday party with the president, which pretty much everyone in the White House press corps and a lot of people from New York and other cities who comment on politics, etc., show up for those parties too, and I hardly think that they're compromised. I just think that you've got to look at the whole big picture and not just one event. And if some people were offended or thought it was silly, have at it; everyone’s got the freedom to do that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I don't think the concern that most people have is that it was silly or that you aren't working somberly at holding people’s feet to the fire 24/7. It’s that these events are so cozy. There is a kind of a Stockholm syndrome that happens in Washington.
ED HENRY: [LAUGHS] Sure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I worked there for 13 years, and it’s all about access. It’s not so much about digging, especially within the actual White House press corps itself. It’s about returned calls. And that’s a transaction.
ED HENRY: Well, there’s no doubt that you need access to get information, but I think that you've got to be careful assuming that just because you go to somebody’s house it’s, quote, unquote, “cozy.” People we cover are not one-dimensional characters, and when you stand afar and say, I'm never gonna get a drink with someone, I'm never gonna have a meal, I'm never gonna go to a party at the Vice President’s house, it is - seems a little odd to think that somehow you lose all scruples. I think having a meal with someone that you cover actually gives you a lot more perspective on not only who they are but why they're attacking a certain issue, a certain way. I mean, some people want to cover, whether it’s the White House or the mayor’s office or whatever, from thousands of feet away without really getting to know the people they cover. That may be their approach. It’s not mine.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There are something like a half dozen black-tie events [LAUGHS] with Washington and the press corps every year, if not more. It’s about creating personal relationships that can get in the way of coverage, I mean, exactly why people are kept from covering certain beats if they find that there’s a personal relationship. Those sorts of rules seem to get suspended in Washington, and I think that creates a great deal of suspicion among news consumers.
ED HENRY: It may lead to suspicion by some outside the Beltway, especially if you sort of characterize it that way. But I hardly think going to a black-tie dinner with people we cover is gonna compromise our ethics, either. Are there people who cross the line? Sure. But I think as long as you’re careful about it, you know, to think that you go to a black-tie dinner with the president or with a senator, that somehow then you’re just gonna close your eyes to any wrongdoing that they may be involved in? I think if we just worry about any particular critic’s impression, we couldn't do our jobs at all because we'd constantly be worrying, oh gosh, which blogger on the left is gonna say this, which blogger on the right is gonna say that?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s not a small thing. It’s about the credibility of the press corps.
ED HENRY: Sure, it’s a serious issue, but just because someone’s blogging about it doesn't mean that there is a coziness and it doesn't mean that their criticisms are all true.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If these events don't influence coverage, why do you think the White House throws them? Do they just want to shoot you with a super-soaker?
ED HENRY: Maybe they wanna actually get to know us as people sometimes. You know, sitting down and having lunch with a member of Congress, you can actually learn a lot more than you can in say a two-minute conversation in a hallway.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you ever think twice about going to these events?
ED HENRY: Sure, you always want to be, as you say, skeptical and see what the motives are. But he’s the vice president of the United States. If he wants to invite you over to his house, I don't see why you wouldn't at least listen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ed, thank you very much.
ED HENRY: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ed Henry is the senior White House correspondent for CNN.