End The White House Press Briefing

Last week when Sean Spicer expelled CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and others, apart from the habitual antics of a juvenile administration, perhaps it was a harbinger of a new post-briefing era. While this administration’s anti-First Amendment frolicking is repulsive, it could just be President Trump and Sean Spicer did us all a favor. I say we end the White House press briefing.

The news yielded by these briefings is limited to screw-ups, namely the missteps of the press secretary (hello Melissa McCarthy). Otherwise, briefings do very little to serve the public. It is the charter of the press secretary to say little of interest and nothing of substance. Anything not sanctioned by the administration is met with official obfuscation, because the press briefing exists to trumpet a White House narrative under the guise of press transparency.

There is a durable case to be made that news media outlets are not doing their best work clinging to White House credentials. Parroting presidential administration talking-points rarely charts a path to journalistic integrity. The real work of journalists happens far from the influence of power. The White House can only be held accountable by people unbeholden to its allure, just ask Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

Established in 1929, and notably with the advent of television, the position of White House Press Secretary has become the most prominent public face of the administration next to the president. Known colloquially as the “tick-tock,” the press secretary is tasked with collecting and disseminating the events and actions of the president and his administration. But this could be accomplished with a simple press release instead of trading White House credentials for watered-down press coverage. A circumstance that benefits presidential administrations more than it benefits public good.

But short of ending briefings altogether, let me suggest an alternative. In a time when Americans increasingly seek a potent knuckle-down news media, I call for all serious, sincere, and resolute news outlets to pull out of any future press briefings where the White House locks out a peer. Confidence is eroded and trust is diminished when one is party to administrative propaganda.

Because respect is earned. Outlets like Breitbart exist to hype ultra right-wing propaganda. Even if they are welcome to the briefing room, we are under no obligation to count them among the serious. We save that for outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, news media organizations who give voice to the voiceless, with a broad coalition of ideological perspectives. They are the true last line of a thriving democracy. These reputable organizations must reject the irresponsible, while offering Americans a substantive accounting of those in power. And when they fall short, it is our duty to call them out.

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