Should we cancel the White House press briefings?
posted at 7:53 am on July 26, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
I’m on vacation and I promise to go away after this, but I wanted to highlight this column from Yahoo News correspondent Olivier Knox on why the White House press briefings should continue — terrible though they may be. Olivier, a friend of mine, writes that canceling the briefings would send a very bad message about accountability for an administration that has already tried to lock the press out of most of its activities (one time even keeping the press out of a presentation of a transparency award for Barack Obama). There is value in forcing the White House press secretary to dodge questions in public:
Does America really need a semi-official press? The Obama White House already likes to restrictcoverageof newsworthyevents to its official photographer, excluding news photographers who might be less concerned with getting the president’s good side and more worried about, um, news. (Instead, these talented journalists worry more about their future. It’s as though the White House saw the media’s self-inflicted wounds and reached for the anti-coagulant.)
At its best, the briefing can have a leveling effect: A reporter from an outlet that isn’t among The Chosen but might be called upon at the briefing benefits from asking their question in a public, televised setting. That means everyone will see the press secretary answering, replying, dodging, etc. For some reporters, who can’t even get their emails returned, this is a priceless opportunity. There’s also a chance that one of the Big Outlet Reporters who dominate the briefings will pick up the question, increasing the leverage necessary to pry an answer out of the White House (any White House).
It also gives reporters a rare chance to set the agenda. Yes, of course the White House would prefer to talk about the president’s great and entirely genuine affection for middle-class Americans in Ohio. But what’s he doing about the mounting death toll in Syria?
A current senior White House aide (who didn’t want to be identified) and a communications adviser in George W. Bush’s White House told Yahoo News that the briefing also serves the symbolic but crucial function of showing Americans that no one is above being questioned. The two sources independently said cancelling the briefing would “send a terrible message.”
Read the whole thing, because Olivier’s essay makes it clear that while the problem is the current administration, reporters can and should do more to force the White House into being more responsive. He offers a funny and cutting anecdote at the end to underscore the point.
Now, I’m on vacation. The only reporting I’m going to be doing until August 5th will be the breaking news of the natural beauty of Alaska and Canada.