The long and often rocky relationship between the executive branch and the press has become farcical. White House press briefings are now nothing more than a daily opportunity for reporters to express their hostility towards President Donald Trump through adversarial questions. If the briefings are discontinued – as the President himself has suggested – it will be because the media has relinquished its right to expect any cooperation from this constantly besieged administration.
The public has always expected journalists to hold the government accountable and objectively document the intentions and actions of our political leaders. That expectation has given way to cynicism. The filter between the White House and the people is now a politicized distortion. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is swimming against the tide every time he stands up at the podium. Quite often, the answers he gives to reporters’ questions are reported less than the things he does not say. The news coming out of the James S. Brady press briefing room is so thoroughly soaked in opinion that the entire point of the press briefing has been forgotten. The liberal elitists of the media world have elevated themselves to the point of being – in their own eyes – more important than even the president himself. It is now their own opinions that we are supposed to be guided by, regardless of actual events.
With such skewed reporting, then, it comes as no surprise that Mr. Trump has floated the idea of ending the press briefings. During an interview on Fox News, Jeanine Pirro asked the president what he thought could be done about the problem of inaccurate reporting. “We don’t have press conferences,” he answered. “We just don’t have them. Unless I have them every two weeks and do it myself. We don’t have them. I think it’s a good idea.”
Certainly, the idea of Trump conducting the press briefings himself is a delicious prospect. It is hard to imagine that the White House press corps would prefer that over simply continuing to beat up on Spicer, almost every day. The president would likely match or exceed their adversarial tone. It would make for great television, no doubt. (Imagine the millions that could be made on pay-per-view.)
The New York Times seems to agree with Trump on this one issue; that there remains little value in holding press briefings when accuracy is so elusive. From the Times’ perspective, of course, it is the White House that has dispensed with the truth. Former Times White House correspondent, Jim Rutenberg, writes “It may be an idea whose time has come — at least until there’s an improvement in the truth and accuracy barometer in the White House briefing room.” To be fair, there has always been some confused – if not contradictory – messaging emerging from the Trump White House. From the other perspective, however, the credibility of the press has taken a number of big hits, since Trump came to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; everything is now a scandal, while former President Obama’s numerous – and very real – scandals were all but ignored by the mainstream media, or trivialized, if covered at all.
On the heels of the president’s musings about ending the press briefings, White House Correspondents’ Association president, Jeff Mason, reacted in a statement Friday. “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,” he said. It is true no politician should be above having their words, actions or motives questioned, but accountability and transparency are two-way streets and, when they are lacking in the press, then the press has little right to expect it. The truth is – as Rutenberg points out – the press briefing is not where the real communication, between the media and the administration, takes place. “The briefing room was never where the real reporting on an administration happened, so it’s not central to a White House reporter’s job,” he admits.
The mainstream American media has struggled to maintain the trust of the American people for quite some time; any pretense of objectivity or commitment to the truth was abandoned the moment Donald Trump won the election. It benefits the nation when an honest media holds those in power accountable; it benefits no-one when that is no longer possible because the media often refuses to report the facts.