Maybe the death of the White House press briefing isn’t a bad idea

President Donald Trump had an interesting idea for solving the problem of inaccuracies from his White House communications team: have them stop talking.

For the moment, let’s ignore the fact that there’s no such thing as “perfect accuracy.” You’re either accurate or you’re not accurate.

While the suggestion might seem extreme, it’s one worth considering if you consider this: What good are White House press briefings now other than entertainment?

Trump is acknowledging that White House briefings are full of misinformation, which requires reporters to spend their time comparing the statements of Trump’s spokespeople to Trump’s tweets. And also to reality.

The White House spokesperson’s job is to try to convince a skeptical press corps that Trump’s versions of events are supported by facts. It ends up as little more than theater.

Handing out written statements is how the White House announced the firing of James Comey, releasing a detailed letter from the deputy attorney general, criticizing Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

In his interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump said the decision to fire Comey was his idea, citing “this Russia thing,” contradicting his administration’s paper trail suggesting Trump was merely taking the advice of his attorney general.

White House press briefings are a chance to get clarification and make sense of things. Trump has learned what the White House press corps has learned in this new age of politics in the United States: You can’t.

  • MrE85

    I was hoping you would link to that McCarthy clip. I almost feel sorry for Spicy. Almost.

    • >>#InTheBushes<<

      Reminded me of a certain "Bachmann" maneuver.

      • MrE85

        Having been a “official spokesperson” myself for many years, I wasn’t kidding when I said I almost felt sorry for the WH communications team. But they choose to represent this president, so there is no need to feel sorry for them. Frankly, I don’t know how they can look themselves in a mirror.

        • Rob

          There are certain types of beings who cast no reflection; the mirror thing is not an issue for them.

  • wjc

    “…it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy”

    Nobody is talking about perfect accuracy, but is not lying too much to ask? When 3 surrogates are saying 3 different things, might that not be a problem?

    The press briefings need to stay. The press needs to be able to ask questions, whether or not the administration is capable of answering them.

    • jon

      How about when all of the surrogates are saying the same thing and then the president changes the story 12 hours later?

      Even when the Whitehouse staff are on their a game, they are at the whims of Trump himself who can’t maintain a message for more than a few hours with out constant teleprompters… And his reading level isn’t high enough to use them particularly well…

  • Gary F

    she handled it quite well.

    • And that’s what illustrates the incompetence of this White House. She’s defending her inaccuracy by saying when she said it she hadn’t yet talked to the president.

      The White House spokesperson SPEAKS FOR THE PRESIDENT. That’s the job. So if she was freewheeling it in answering the question earlier, she either (a) shouldn’t do that or (2) say at THAT time that she can’t answer the questions because she hasn’t yet talked to the president.

      What actually happened here is an exercise in deniability. She tried to get away with something, got caught, and then went on the offense with deniability.

      That’s not how this is supposed to work and confirms that the White House press briefing has no purpose. The press corps should actually be reaching this conclusion because continuing to report on them actually is assisting in a daily smokescreen of confusion and inaccuracies.

      Let the president speak for the president and when he gets caught in fallacy, there’s no reason to go back to a third party and ask “why”? Focus on reporting the inaccuracy, set the record straight, and cut out the third party, whose job is not a clear telling of the truth.

      • Gary F

        And it was the same thru the Obama years.

        • I’m not aware of the daily occurrence of the spokesman saying something one day as the president’s spokesman and then defending the next day saying “well, I didn’t really know what the president was thinking when I said that.”

          There is ZERO credibility with the press briefing. That was not the case even when Ron Ziegler was running them. That’s awful this crowd is at trying to explain things.

          One of the things that’s changed over the years is that White House spokespeople were once journalists who had at least some ethical code about truthfulness.

          As the public relations businesses has blossomed in recent years, the job is increasingly being done by people — and not just as the White House — with absolutely no ethics. Where the theme is “by any means necessary.”

        • Rob

          Not. Although it does sound like the kind of false comparison that Trump or his flak staff would use in defense of their fabrications.

        • X.A. Smith

          That’s ridiculous.

        • Ralphy

          Are you saying the Obama administration routinely contradicted itself in press conferences?
          That spokespeople routinely appeared at press conferences and simply made stuff up?
          That his people trolled and argued with the press while on camera?
          Ok then.

        • Dan

          Here, I’ll try to condense my sarcasm into < 140 characters for you

          "When Obama was busy & threatened to stop press conferences (for accuracy!), Republicans were supportive. Now look at the Dems. Pathetic!"

      • DavidG

        “And that’s what illustrates the incompetence of this White House.
        She’s defending her inaccuracy by saying when she said it she hadn’t yet
        talked to the president.”

        I can’t recall, was that immediately before or after she denied that anyone in the press shop was in the dark on this?

  • kevins

    Trump and his brain trustees saw the press briefings as a way to control messaging. They were obviously wrong about that, or in the alternative, just weren’t good at it. Abandoning the daily briefings is now the fall back strategy for controlling the message, but it is a characteristically childish and self serving strategy. Americans can handle genuineness in politicians, even being able to deal with “I don’t know”, “I can’t say because of security issues”, or simply “no” when necessary. It’s the lies that bother people, and Mr. Trump is indeed good at that.

  • Anna

    I can just imagine what our allies across the pond think of this comedy of errors.

    Trump wouldn’t know the truth if it hit him like a sledgehammer. Someone needs to inform him that this is not his real estate business or the government version of a really bad reality show.

    His tendency towards paranoia is in full bloom now as well as his laser focus on how he appears to the American public. He’ll do anything and say anything to make himself look good.

    Threatening witnesses in an investigation is criminal behavior and falls under the category of obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense.

    He has to keep changing his story because his office is full of leaks, likely motivated by people who believe he has crossed the line numerous times.

    I can’t believe any Republican with half a brain would continue to follow along like a sheep just to stay in power. It’s like a bunch of lemmings hurtling over the cliff en masse.

    I disagree. The Washington press corps needs to stay and keep the pressure on.

    Trump is going to crack up eventually.

    • Bob Sinclair

      “I can’t believe any Republican with half a brain would continue to follow along like a sheep just to stay in power.”
      “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” Power is like a drug; once you have it you can’t/won’t get rid of it w/out a fight. Ask any recovering addict, half brain or not, what thats like.
      And the problem with sheep is that they they tend to wander unless they have someone to follow. Unfortunately in this case the one leading is one, who in my opinion, needs Adderall to stay focused.

      • Anna

        I agree. Someone needs to spike his Diet Coke, his KFC, etc.

        On second thought, that might bring on the appointment of an official food taster.

        • RBHolb

          “On second thought, that might bring on the appointment of an official food taster.”

          And we now have an answer to the question “What will Sean Spicer do all day if the daily briefing is eliminated?”

          Not that anyone cares.

        • Jerry

          I pity the man who has to test his well-done steaks served with ketchup

  • The problem for WH staff is that Trump lives in the moment, oblivious to what has already happened or what may happen in the near future, much less the distant future. He simply blurts out whatever comes to him – and it is unencumbered by any sense of boundaries. I really think he lacks the cognitive discipline to parse detail and doesn’t have any sense of the normal restraint that allows one time to think things through. How he ever got a university degree is beyond me.

    • Rob

      Trump University!

    • Ralphy

      He got his degree the old fashioned way.
      He bought it.

  • MikeB

    Pre-Trump I thought the press briefings did not have much value for the press. But now it’s a goldmine of dysfunction and creates a never ending supply of leaked material, as WH sources want to get their story out. Good for journalism and for those who make Pepto Bismol and ibuprofen and booze.

    • Leaking doesn’t come in a press briefing.

      • MikeB

        But it generates leaks from what happens there, among other events.

        • White House correspondents are very rarely the people who report leaked information. That’s the other reason I wouldn’t mind seeing the WH press corps scattered to the wind. They can go back to digging and reporting and wouldn’t have to spend so much of their day just regurgitating garbage.

          • MikeB

            Agreed, I thought new orgs should put their new people or interns on that beat for the every day stuff. Get their best people out of the White House.

  • chris

    The Trump administration squandered their credibility long ago. Press briefings may not seem critical now, but wait until there is a real crisis where lives are on the line. The people (this is still a democracy) deserve a press that can question and get credible answers from government. The norm wrecking going on is starting to seem like we are the frogs in boiling water. We are going to reach a critical point soon. Trump’s intimidation of Comey today is reason enough to impeach him and remove him from office.

  • RBHolb

    To be fair, eliminating the press briefings will be easier than governing. Who knew consistency and coherence would be so difficult?

  • Rob

    I say: Bring on the ban. If press briefings are suspended, Trump will have no shield for his lies, no forum for his various Wormtongues to insist that day is night – and the fall of his Kronyist, Kleptocratic Kakistocracy will be even harder and faster, as more reporters will be freed to cultivate inside sources, so as to find and speak the truth. Let us pray.

  • Mike Worcester

    To the untrained eye, those daily briefings seem more like a gotcha cat/mouse game. Who can ask the most vexing question and who can get in the most pointless rejoinder. When you have administrations planting journalists in order to ask softballs (see Jeff Gannon/James Guckert), is the briefing really about an exchange of information? Was is ever and when did it move away from that?

    With the vitality of ‘net news sources — credible ones — the daily briefing almost seems like a quaint throwback. And maybe that is why if it goes away, the only folks who may be disappointed are Melissa McCarthy fans who will miss her SNL Sean Spicer schtick.

    • I think TV went a long way to ruining the value of Wh press briefings because saw how sausage is made (and also because TV wants theater).

      But before that, the reason you ask the same question 10 different ways isn’t so much for gotcha as it is to get a coherent answer or an answer with jargon or any number of reasons . That looks different when done live than in the “old days.”

  • X.A. Smith
  • lindblomeagles

    I tend to disagree with ending White House press briefings even if they have been reduced in content and value to the public for the following reasons. First, this is the Information Age. As Donald Trump himself has symbolized, some of our politicians are trying to provide the public with “alternative facts.” The potential to do this on a pernicious basis is extraordinarily high if we, the public, rely on a sheet of vague bullet points and can’t ask the question, “Why is this so vague?” “What aren’t you telling us that you SHOULD be telling us?” Second, if Trump and his successors CONTROL how and what information is communicated to us, the public without our ability to ask follow up questions, how do we make an informed voting decision on the incumbent? If, for example, Trump tells us what he wants us to know, we may get the sense he’s doing a fabulous job not knowing, for example, if he is selling us out to the Russians or using the Oval Office for his own financial gain. Our vote is reduced to a meaningless rubber stamp because we don’t really know what administrations are doing, and we aren’t able to find anything out because we’re unable to ask tough questions.

    • Rob

      There’s lots of other ways for reporters to find stuff out. And when the briefings are used primarily to disseminate lies and misstatements and to antagonize attending reporters, rather than to explain/show what the administration is really doing, no amount of followup questions is going to change those practices.

      • lindblomeagles

        I disagree. I think THIS Administration is primarily the one disseminating lies and misstatements. I also think THIS Administration is the one antagonizing attending reporters too. There are other ways for reporters to find stuff out, but why go down the slope of knocking one or more of those ways out simply because we, the public, are unsure of what to believe? Did we learn something from this week’s Presidential Briefing? Yes, we sure did. We learned Trump is REALLY worried about the Russian Investigation. We learned Trump’s Administration IS NOT being consulted, on anything, before Trump does or doesn’t do something. We learned Sean Spicer is on his way out as White House Press Secretary, and we, the public, now have more questions to ask and some decisions to make as next year’s election moves forward.

  • jon

    Print aside that the press briefing accomplish very little, as Spicer is regularly used as a trail balloon for a communication before the president decides his actual statements. The optics are terrible, though again Trump doesn’t seem to care about optics, or factual information.

    The loss of the trump brand press briefing wouldn’t be a terrible loss, the information gathered through them is usually that Spicer is out of his element… That isn’t really news any more.

    • The NPR politics podcast had a fascinating item yesterday. The Republicans in Congress find out what the administration is saying/up to via the reporters at the briefing.

      • jon

        So a rebranding is in order, instead of “White House press briefing” we can cut the press out, put congressional aides in their place, and call it a “party briefing”.

        No one tell the White House about the optics on that. They need to figure it out on their own.

  • BeyondThePail

    Any good litigator knows you want your adversaries to talk talk and keep talking. The more they say (particularly on the record) the more likely they will say something that will need to be contradicted later. The credibility of the speaker can be more easily attacked when you can use his own words against him. (Lawyers call that impeachment, but it’s not the kind of impeachment you’re looking for. If I had the OED nearby I’d see how the two senses of the word come from common notion, but it’s late now. )