The White House needs to keep the cameras on for its daily press briefing. Equally, reporters need to stop showboating for their audiences.
Both sides need to suck up their mutual animosities and refocus on what is normal and traditional. Journalists must pursue serious lines of inquiry, pressing administration officials, and the White House must make itself available in all forms and to all media to answer those questions.
The White House has gone back and forth on the issue of allowing cameras to carry the daily press briefing, arguing that televised briefings are to reporters what congressional hearings are to lawmakers, a chance to grandstand for the folks at home.
"There's a lot of them that want to become YouTube stars and ask some snarky question that's been asked eight times," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a recent interview. "That's their right to do that. But it's our job to make sure that we're providing updates and readouts of what the president is doing and the advances he is making on his agenda.
"And so there is a bit of snarkiness now with the press because, again, a lot of them are more focused about getting their clip on air than they are on actually taking the time to understand an issue."
He's not wrong.
Though some White House correspondents commendably focus on meaningful questions, a great many exploit the daily event to engage in "gotcha" journalism and obvious grandstanding.
Getting the daily press briefing back on track will be tricky. Two former White House press secretaries have endorsed the idea of killing the live video feed altogether.
"We support no live TV coverage of WH briefing. Embargo it & let it be used, but not as live TV. Better for the public, the WH & the press," Ari Fleischer and Mike McCurry said in identical tweets.
We disagree with this not because it is wholly wrong but because it is at most the second-best solution available. The best solution is for both the White House and the press to return to the status quo ante when they used the briefings for an orderly and civilized exchange of questions and answers.
And anyway, there's the obvious question problem with the Fleischer-McCurry suggestions. What's to stop someone from showboating knowing CNN, NBC, Fox, etc., will air the juiciest bits later? In fact, taping the briefing almost guarantees selective editing and "greatest hits" reels that can be taken wildly out of context.
Second, although we understand the idea behind banning cameras (which, by the way, is the same reasoning behind the Supreme Court's ban on video) it's not the White House's place to try to correct journalists' behavior. Reform of the press briefing should come from newsrooms, not the White House.
Accepting incremental reductions to press access is not a road that anyone in journalism should encourage or support from any administration.
Lastly, to the issue of showboating. Those who engage in chest pounding expose news media for what many of them actually are — preening members of the political opposition. This damages them, not the administration. Viewers are smart enough to discern for themselves what is authentic and newsworthy and what is merely self-serving entertainment.
They don't need to be protected by the White House. Turn the cameras back on, Mr. President.