A former aide to President Obama has a not-so-modest proposal making waves across Washington — at least among reporters: Kill the daily White House press briefing.
Reid Cherlin, a former assistant press secretary under Obama, writes in the New Republic that the daily, televised back-and-forth between the president’s top spokesman and the White House press corps has been rendered obsolete. He says both reporters and Obama administration officials approach the ritual with open disdain.
Cherlin shares a few nuggets that have long been acknowledged by reporters who make the daily pilgrimage to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“The goal is to make it through without inciting an international crisis or stepping on the president’s cheery message of the day, and then to return to the office and get down to actual business, including figuring out which of the administration’s three favored outlets — The New York Times, AP and Mike Allen’s 'Playbook'— will get advance word” of major developments, he writes.
And Cherlin offered a blunt critique of Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney, the two men tasked with carrying the president’s megaphone during the last four and a half years.
“Gibbs and current Press Secretary Jay Carney differ in style — Gibbs often made me cringe by ignoring the talking points; Carney makes me cringe by using them — but the effect is the same, which is to say, ridiculous,” he wrote.
White House briefings became more theatrical after they were televised, which started under President Clinton. Reporters have complained that administration officials are much less candid when the cameras are rolling. White House aides often accuse reporters of looking for the perfect soundbite rather than eliciting important details.
However, some journalists threw cold water on Cherlin’s suggestion, at least until they are presented with a viable alternative.
“Every White House reporter gets fed up with the briefings; it comes with the job,” said a veteran of the White House press corps, who started covering the beat during the Clinton years. “But eliminating the daily briefing wouldn’t make sense unless we had assurances that they would replace it with something where they give answers on the record. I don’t see that happening.”
“Yes, let’s come up with another way for them not to talk to us,” quipped another White House reporter.
And others took to social media to air their gripes about what the briefing has become. Still, most weren’t ready to spike the televised routine.
“Without question, the daily WH press briefing is flawed & too often provides canned responses or evasions to important questions,” Mark Knoller, a White House correspondent for CBS News tweeted. “Let the WH press secretary continue to prepare for the questions he’ll/she’ll face. A bad briefing is better than none at all.”
Carney, who took over as press secretary in early 2011, has gotten more skillful in deflecting reporters’ queries. In fact, Yahoo News recently compiled a list of the “top 9,486 ways Jay Carney won’t answer your question.”
Carney was not asked about the New Republic article during the daily briefing with reporters on Tuesday.
And just for the record, the Washington Examiner has a seat in the briefing room and attends the press conference every — or nearly every — day.