Ol’ Donnie-boy Trump is talking about maybe stopping the daily White House press briefings. He was miffed by those who had the unmitigated gall to question him when he changed his story for about the third time regarding his firing of FBI Director James Comey, and said:
“Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
Well, he didn’t actually say it … he tweeted it. That seems to be the only form of communication he knows these days. Speaking of which … have you ever wondered why, every time he signs one of his ‘executive orders’ he has a crowd of people standing around? I have two possible theories here. Either they have come to ‘oooohhhh’ and ‘aaaahhhhh’ over the fact that he can actually sign his name, or else they had to help him make his letters. Apparently he still needs some help …
But back to the White House press briefings …
Right before the aforementioned tweet, he twitted:
“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!”
Oh for Pete’s sake! Active president? Active … destroying the environment, alienating our allies, provoking our antagonists, lying, tweeting endlessly, and tooting his own horn! He could slow down on all those activities, and maybe, just maybe, he would have time to ensure that what comes out of the mouths of his staff is accurate. And what does it even mean to “stand at podium with perfect accuracy”? How can we be expected to pay serious attention to a man who cannot even speak properly?
One article I read suggested that perhaps it is time to end the long-standing tradition of the daily press briefings, given that today’s electronic communications would be a more efficient method for communicating news from within to without. I heartily and vocally disagree! First, reporters need to be able to ask questions and receive answers – or, at least get a ‘no comment’, which in itself says a heck of a lot sometimes. Second, there is benefit to journalists spending some portion of their day in the White House, seeing and sensing activities they would not notice from their newsroom desks. The press, whether Little Donnie Dark likes it or not, is one of our best means for oversight of the administration, and the current administration damn sure requires oversight!
There is some interesting history about how the daily briefings came into play. In 1870, Philadelphia Free Press’ social correspondent Emily Briggs argued that what happened at the White House should be public knowledge because taxpayers paid for its upkeep, saying, “When we go to the Executive Mansion, we go to our own house. We recline on our own satin and ebony.”
William “Fatty” Price of the Washington Evening Star was one of the first reporters to ‘work the White House beat’. He started standing outside the gate of the Executive Mansion during Grover Cleveland’s second term and asking visitors leaving the building what their meetings had been about. Shortly thereafter, Cleveland’s first-time private secretary Daniel Lamont (whose job was akin to that of today’s White House Chief of Staff) began the tradition of having a White House aide answer reporters’ questions.
Theodore Roosevelt continued the trend of increasing access for reporters. He treated his “newspaper cabinet” to regular direct conversation, typically during his early afternoon shave. In 1902, journalists got their own office in the West Wing. He used favorite correspondents for ‘trial balloon’ stories, with the expectation that he would deny the truth of the story if the reaction was a bad one. (Sound familiar?
Under Woodrow Wilson, press conferences went from invitation-only gatherings to events open to all reporters. The first official press conference took place shortly after Wilson took office. His private secretary announced to reporters that the President would “look them in the face and chat with them for a few minutes” at 12:45 p.m. on March 15, 1913. When 125 newspaper staffers showed up, Wilson said, “I did not realize there were so many of you. Your numbers force me to make a speech to you en masse instead of chatting with each of you, as I had hoped to do, and thus getting greater pleasure and personal acquaintance out of this meeting.”
Along the way, President Harding would answer only questions submitted in writing, and President Hoover required all questions to be submitted 24 hours in advance. Rather limiting, yes? The most visible president was Franklin D. Roosevelt who often held press conferences twice a week. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty was the first to organize televised presidential press conferences, the first on January 31, 1955.
Throughout the years, some presidents have embraced the press briefings, while others found ways to curtail them. Ronald Reagan’s press secretary James S. Brady, for whom the Briefing Room is named, used to joke that he and Reagan always planned on installing a trap door so reporters who “got out of line” would fall into the swimming pool if he pushed a button on his podium. But ultimately, most have come to the conclusion that having reporters and photographers available on a daily basis to carry their message to the public is more of an asset than a liability. And then along comes Little Donnie Dark …
Trump has not been a fan of the press, even referring to them as “the enemy of the American people”. In truth, the press are the guardians of American democracy, holding elected officials accountable and defending free speech. Trump’s real nemesis is the truth. By attacking the media, he opens up a new line of attack against facts, his true target. He is, after all, the Gaslighter in Chief. He is trying to confuse the public so that they will not believe inconvenient truths.
So now Trump is considering halting the daily press briefings. The past week has been the epitome of conflicting alternative truths, proving that this administration cannot even keep their lies straight. Does the daily briefing have any value anymore, if we cannot believe a single word that comes out of the mouths of Sean Spicer or his assistant, Sarah Huckabee Sanders? If this administration continues to eschew truth, facts, and transparency as they have done for almost four months now, then we must make a choice. We must choose between a president who will become an autocrat and rule under the cover of darkness, or we must choose to oust this administration in favour of one that respects the rights of the people to know what their government is doing.
The press is not infallible, but they are our last best hope to maintain the freedoms and the system of government that enables us to write as I am writing today, to walk down the street without fear of harassment, to speak our minds without fear of being imprisoned.