There has been a lot of journalism banter about the White House’s latest move to better control its message by bringing about dramatic change in the format of the daily press briefing. I will join with the two former press secretaries (on Democrat and one Republican) who agree with the move to drop the live broadcast of the briefing. It is the right thing to do for several reasons.
The daily press briefing had morphed into a parody of itself. We got to watch Sean Spicer squirm as he tried to predict the answers to questions that would be supported by his unpredictable boss. This skewering was becoming more entertainment than actual news value. When Sarah Huckabee Sanders stepped up to the podium, there was a bit more order in the room, but hardly much more substance.
Daily access to our government leaders is a pillar of democracy and should be taken seriously. The media has a literal seat at the table, with journalists from major news organizations having desks in the West Wing itself. Hundreds of journalists are also credentialed to cover the White House. There is a large press staff to handle their inquiries and facilitate their work. None of that has changed, nor has the daily briefing itself. Journalists can still use the press briefing to ask their questions if they wish, only they won’t have the ability to try to embarrass press secretaries on national television.
There will be those who call this a freedom of the press issue or attack on open government. Some will even say that the situation the press secretaries find themselves in their own fault, or the fault of the administration. I don’t believe this in anyway limits press access. Further, I disagree that it is the fault of media professionals or even the administration. The live broadcast is the problem. If a journalist has questions, they have every right to ask it and deserve an answer. We work that way for our clients everyday –and most are not in government. But making a spectacle out of the process of getting that information, when no one is stopping them from doing that, is just not a fair criticism.
There are many things I disagree with and some I even agree with in regard to the Trump Administration. Daily press briefings should not be one of the issues takes our focus away from the far more important issues affecting our world.