Monday, May 08, 2006

Bag the Briefing

Commenting on a few of the issues awaiting Tony Snow on his first day as White House Press Secretary, Just One of Those Mysteries... For Snow's First Day, Jay Rosen of PressThink made an observation that I've thought about before:

Bag the briefing . . .

It wasn't much noticed, but last week, the new chief of staff at the White House, Joshua Bolten, told Fox News Sunday that "it may be worth considering whether to end the daily televised press briefings where reporters and the press secretary frequently air disputes in front of the cameras."

He also said he will leave the decision up to Snow.

End the briefings! I suppose it would never occur to Bolten that such a decision also belongs to the people being briefed. If Snow turns out to be McClellan with better hair, the press ought to quit the briefing room and give up on getting explanations from the White House. Beat Bolten to the punch, in other words.

By "quit" I mean pull your top talent. Send interns instead to occupy the seats without asking questions or filing reports. That means no correspondents at the two daily briefings, none on the President's plane, none at his public appearances. (Except for foreign trips where other heads of state might speak.) Let the White House publicize itself.

Meanwhile, re-deploy your top people, so that they still report on the Bush Administration and what it's doing, but only from the outside-in. (Which is what the top reporters say they do, anyway. See this portrait of Elisabeth Bumiller.) Outside-in reporting, a practical step, recognizes the futility of trying to get information out of the Bush White House. Quitting the briefing-before Bolten gets to close it down-would be a symbolic step, recognition of how far the contempt for reason-giving has gone under Bush.

Will it ever happen? Could it? It could (. . . there's nothing to stop NBC from sending a highly-regarded intern instead of David Gregory) but it won't. As I have said before . . . . Bush changed the game on the press and he knew the press wouldn't react, or change the game on him. Now we get to see whether Tony Snow will intensify this pattern, or reverse it.
In various video clips and transcipts, as I have watched the spectacle that the Daily Press Briefing has become over time, I have wondered on several occasions why the press corps doesn't just get together and boycott the Briefing altogether. It strikes me that the process has become a charade and is just a waste of time.

At this point, it only serves the purpose of giving the White House another opportunity to marginalize the press, so why bother? It seems that all too often when there is a report on the Briefing these days, the reporter is the subject (or target) of the news report -- or even worse, it is used as the backdrop for a comic routine, such as Jon Stewart -- rather than for the substance of any communication provided by the Press Secretary.

Of course, as Rosen said, the White House press corps would still report on the White House, it would just eliminate this worthless exercise -- at least so long as Bush is resident. But I assume that competition among the press corp would prevent them from uniting against their common "enemy" -- an Administration that has, with some success, attacked their raison d'etre.

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