The delicate egos of some White House correspondents were bruised Friday just before the daily coronavirus task force briefing began. A White House staffer tried to get CNN’s Kaitlan Collins to switch seats with a print reporter who is assigned to sit in the back of the room.
We know that White House correspondents are assigned seats in the briefing room by the White House Correspondents’ Association. The bigger media outlets are seated upfront. Frequently reporters will do a live shot after a press briefing for cable networks by simply standing in their assigned spot and reporting. Being on the front row makes that an easy thing to do. On Friday, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins snagged a front-row seat. Because of the social distancing guidelines, there are usually only two maybe three reporters at the most on the front row. Needless to say, when the White House asked her to move, she refused.
Chris Johnson, of the Washington Blade, a print pool reporter, was asked to switch with Collins. He refused to do so and this gave cover to Collins’ decision to stay put.
White House staff just came into the briefing room and informed the print pooler that they want them to swap seats w CNN. That would move CNN to the back row from the front. @whca made these seat assignments not staff
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) April 24, 2020
I am not going to participate in a briefing if the White House moves reporters from their assigned seats.
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) April 24, 2020
So, that was interesting. CNN’s Jim Acosta spoke with Anderson Cooper later and described the White House’s action as “Soviet-style totalitarian behavior”. Hyperbole, much? Granted, the White House staff doesn’t assign the seats but doesn’t Putin just jail, and sometimes murder, his opposition in the press? Russian media would probably welcome something as benign as asking a reporter to switch seats at a briefing. CNN employs Acosta to be an antagonistic reporter, though, so he brought the hyperbole. Attaboy, Jim. “There just isn’t enough disinfectant at the White House to wash away what the president did.” Acosta blames Trump specifically for the request, not entertaining the possibility that a staffer acted on instructions from elsewhere in the White House.
Hours after Friday’s briefing, which abruptly concluded after 22 minutes with the president refusing to answer any questions from the press, CNN’s Jim Acosta revealed that Trump officials had attempted a last-minute rearrangement of the press seats, which are assigned by the White House Correspondents’ Association, not the Trump administration.
“Just to show you the Soviet-style totalitarian-like lengths they were going to, this evening, they were trying to rearrange the seats in the briefing room, so our colleague Kaitlan Collins would be stuck in the back row and another moved to the front of the briefing room,” Acosta explained. “[Washington Blade reporter] Chris Johnson, thank goodness for him, refused to get up out of his seat. So, it took almost an act of civil disobedience to foil their plans. One White House official was saying ‘We’re going to get the Secret Service involved if you don’t switch seats around.’”
“That’s a good use of Secret Service resources,” CNN host Anderson Cooper snarked.
Perhaps the White House wanted Collins sent to the back of the room in response to some negative reporting on Thursday’s coronavirus task force press briefing when President Trump pondered out loud about the effects of sunlight and disinfectants on the virus. Even Trump’s most loyal supporters admit the exchange he had over that was a bit unusual. By Friday Trump was telling reporters that he was being sarcastic in his remarks.
Friday’s press briefing with the coronavirus task force was unusual. Earlier in the day, Trump answered questions from reporters during a photo opportunity in the White House. He was bombarded with questions about his remarks about disinfectants and sunlight therapy. So, when the press briefing got underway, President Trump delivered some remarks and then a member of the task force stepped up and gave an update. He took some questions. After he moved back from the podium, Trump ended the press conference and walked out, followed by the others with him. The whole thing only lasted 22 minutes, which is very unusual. These press briefings with the coronavirus task force regularly last more than an hour, with Trump taking the most questions.
It has been suggested that the press briefings center around the task force and their updates instead of Trump taking the majority of the time. It would eliminate the aggravation he receives over remarks like he made Thursday. Frankly, the task force should have more involvement in the briefings – and let Mike Pence run them. It’s good to have Trump present and looking involved, as he is, but the press turns the briefings into contests with gotcha questions and trying to capture a soundbite for the evening news on cable stations. Topics often veer from the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, it is just another opportunity for a dramatic recounting of a White House press briefing from the King of Drama, Jim Acosta. CNN loves that stuff. It’s all red meat for their anti-Trump audience, which, by the way, continues to shrink. You’d think they would notice.
— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) April 25, 2020