Media Bias Turncoat?

52718CBS White House correspondent Jim Axelrod – you might remember him as the fellow labeled "defeatist" by then-White House press secretary Tony Snow – was involved in another tense exchange last week, this time with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

According to the Examiner article "Pelosi, Reid Take On Reporter":

CBS White House reporter Jim Axelrod mentioned to Pelosi that, come November 2008, the number of American troops in Iraq likely will be the same as in November 2006, when Democrats were swept into power. Then, he asked, "How do you view your stewardship of Congress as anything other than a failure to make the president change course?"

Pelosi was instantly taken aback. "What a lovely objective question on the part of the press!" she remarked.

And the blog world exploded with headlines like "Pelosi Shocked by CBS's 'Failure' Hardball from the Left ..." and "Nancy Pelosi Accuses Reporter of Bias"

I reached out to Axelrod to ask him about the incident, and here is how our considerably-less-testy exchange played out via e-mail:

Matthew Felling: You had a run-in with Snow and a run-in with the Speaker of the House … what do you make of these spats? Is the vitriol from the right different from the left?

Jim Axelrod: To be honest, I don't see them as run-ins. We ask. They answer. Every now and again, they take exception to either the tone or substance of the question. This was one of those cases -- though I'm still not sure if it was the tone or the substance or both.

Matthew Felling: Were you surprised that Pelosi took such offense at your question?

Jim Axelrod: I've read over the transcript of the question a number of times now. I still don't understand what's remotely objectionable about it. So if Speaker Pelosi was put out at all, I suppose I'm still in the dark as to why.

Matthew Felling: What was your thinking in when asking the question?

Jim Axelrod: My thinking was very straightforward. I try never to forget a basic premise -- I get to ask the questions that a lot of people wish they could. This might be the most common charge from a significant portion of the Speaker's base. That is, why haven't Democrats been more aggressive in challenging the Bush Iraq policy? I've heard more than one Democratic voter describe the party's approach to challenging the President as "failed". So I asked the leadership if they felt that way.

Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid could have used the platform to address the perception.

Or they could have taken offense at the question.

Their call.

I'm just happy to have the chance to prove that journalists can be charged with "bias" from both sides of the spectrum.