Are White House press briefings pointless?
via AP

Are White House press briefings pointless?

#BriefingsAreAJoke
#BriefingsAreCrucial
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President Trump has a long and complicated history with the press. From calling mainstream media outlets "fake news" to encouraging attacks on journalists, it is no surprise the White House press briefings have gotten so messy. Critics argue the briefings, now led by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, are nothing more than propaganda and have become completely pointless. But others believe press briefings are crucial to holding public officials accountable. What do you think?

#BriefingsAreAJoke
#BriefingsAreCrucial

The very first White House press briefing with Sean Spicer began with a lie: "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period." And it would set the tone for what would develop into an increasingly turbulent relationship between the Trump administration and the press, riddled with half-truths and outright falsehoods. 

When it was first announced that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would be taking over for the often-ruffled Spicer, many in the press welcomed Sanders as a refreshing and articulate alternative. But like Spicer, Sanders lies with impunity—she's just proven to be better at hiding it. 

David Horsey argues in The Los Angeles Times that Sanders is perfectly suited for the role, a dishonest press secretary to a dishonest president.

Sanders betrays no qualms about her role. She delivers the daily load of fibs and evasions in a flat, emotionless voice and, if questioned, keeps her cool, repeats her fallacious statements and sneers as if she hopes there is a firing squad waiting outside for the upstart journalist.

While it is the job of White House press secretaries to represent the interests of the administration they serve, Horsey claims Sanders has taken "spin" to another level.

Over the years we have seen many White House press secretaries who did a good job representing the interests of their administrations. They managed to put a positive spin on things without straying too far from facts. By that standard, Sanders is a failure. But in the world of Trump, spin is in, ignorance is strength and facts are nothing more than what you want them to be. By that new standard, Sanders is a pro.

Earlier this year, many called on the press to boycott the briefing altogether when then-press secretary Spicer refused to hold on-camera briefings, even hiding from reporters in the bushes at one point. Journalists demanded briefings to be held on camera for the sake of "transparency" and "commitment to democratic ideals."

For decades, Republican and Democratic White Houses have customarily held on-camera briefings in the afternoon, except when the president is traveling or due to special circumstances.
CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta blasted Monday’s no-camera restrictions, suggesting journalists “should walk out” in protest.

Despite the outrage, there never was a formal boycott of the press briefing. Many felt it was more important to get questions answered on the record, even if they had to be asked off-camera.

Journalists are unlikely to leave a daily briefing if a White House official is still answering questions on the record, regardless of whether they can be recorded for broadcast. And reporters are reluctant to make themselves the story, especially at a moment when the Trump White House ― and Republicans across the country ― seems determined to frame the news media as “the opposition.” 

In an official statement, president of the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) Jeff Mason reiterated the importance of the press briefings:

White House briefings and press conferences provide substantive and symbolic opportunities for journalists to pose questions to officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government. That exercise, conducted in full view of our republic's citizens, is clearly in line with the spirit of the First Amendment. Doing away with briefings would reduce accountability, transparency, and the opportunity for Americans to see that, in the U.S. system, no political figure is above being questioned. The White House Correspondents' Association would object to any move that would threaten those constitutionally-protected principles.
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But it isn't just Trump's defenders who find the daily press briefings pointless. In the New Republic, former Obama aide Reid Cherlin argues what was once an informal conversation between White House officials and members of the press, has now devolved into a shouting match between a gaggle of reporters and some poor spokesperson.

Once upon a time, the daily briefing was just the press secretary walking out into what was then called the Press Lobby [...] making a few announcements about what the president was up to and taking a handful of questions. The idea, veterans say, was to provide a regular forum for the White House and the press to talk to each other, not to provide actual news content.

While Trump's attacks on the press possess a particularly authoritarian flare, many still believe the political theatre of press briefings remain the same.

The daily briefing is seen as one of the last toeholds from which the press corps can try to keep the White House accountable, so eliminating it would be seen as Nixonian, even Stalinist, depending on one’s bogeyman of choice. But reporters who’ve actually endured the sessions day in and day out, if not quite ready to endorse abolition, concede that the institution has wildly outlived its utility.
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Many still feel the White House press briefings are a cornerstone of our democracy, and despite their sometimes combative nature, any erosion of the daily briefing is a mistake.

The White House’s gradual elimination of the on-camera briefings is unprecedented and alarming. Under less incendiary presidents, these briefings were often dull affairs for people with lives outside the Beltway bubble. But they were largely seen as an unbreakable component of the press’s ability to hold White House officials accountable, even when press secretaries, of both parties, ducked tough questions and offered pabulum talking points. There was a record of the questions asked — and the refusal to answer them.
 These briefings are more essential than ever because of President Trump’s hostility to the press and basic transparency.

Sarah Posner argues in The Washington Post that to eliminate the White House press briefing would be to give the Trump administration exactly what they want: "neutralize the news media" or as Steve Bannon has said "the opposition party," and further characterize the mainstream media as "fake news."

But as people tune in every day to be met with lie upon lie from Sanders, it becomes increasingly difficult to see their value.

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