President Donald Trump suggested Friday morning that he might cancel the daily White House briefing.
That's not a bad idea.
"As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!" Trump tweeted. "Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future 'press briefings' and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???"
Putting aside the president's claim his spokespersons are untrustworthy, ignoring his odd use of quotation marks around "press briefing" and ignoring his ridiculous reasoning (the White House's written statement on why he fired former FBI Director James B. Comey was just as confusing as his press secretaries' spoken defenses), nixing the daily briefing might actually be good.
The White House shouldn't cancel it, of course, as it's never good for the powerful to limit press access. Rather, journalists should take the lead on this and just stop going to the daily pressers.
Put simply, the White House press briefing is worthless. It is an exercise in futility, where a lot of noise is made in return for little actual news.
For years the routine has been the same: Journalists file into the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing of the White House. They take their assigned seats. They wait patiently. An assigned spokesperson emerges eventually with carefully prepared notes, and both parties then engage in a decades-old ritual of not making news.
Reporters' questions, no matter how carefully crafted, either are ignored, referred to another department or spun around in a crafty, or sometimes ham-fisted, manner. Though political circles enjoy talking about the podium in lofty terms, the plain fact is the White House spokesperson's one mission is not to make news. He or she will say practically anything to reduce the threat of bad press, and they certainly don't reveal anything willingly that wasn't already in the news.
The likelihood of wringing an original and uncomfortable truth out of a White House spokesperson at the daily briefing is right up there with spotting a unicorn. This isn't unique to the Trump administration. It has been this way for years.
Hooray for the Fourth Estate.
This isn't meant to disparage White House correspondents or their official association. These reporters are working with what they have, and they do a lot more than attend briefings. The point of this is to say journalists would be better off doing literally anything else with their workday than dedicating 45-plus minutes to having a federal spokesperson blow smoke up their collective asses.
The White House Correspondents Association doesn't see it this way.
It views the briefings as providing "substantive and symbolic opportunities for journalists to pose questions to officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government. That exercise, conducted in full view of our republic's citizens, is clearly in line with the spirit of the First Amendment." That's what Reuters' Jeff Mason, who was elected in 2014 to head the WHCA, said Friday in a statement obtained by the Washington Examiner.
"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 added.
But the key word here in his statement, as I see it, is "symbolic."
There's a lot of theater and pageantry at the press briefing, and it's fun for reporters to see themselves on television (especially the ones who've put in the years getting moved up to the front of the briefing room) making White House officials like press secretary Sean Spicer squirm.
However, the goal of the presser — indeed the goal of all journalism — is to shine a light on the powerful. There are probably better ways to do this than to give a White House spin-doctor his very own television show.