In the annals of White House press corps(e) there has been a lot of whining.
Now it appears that some of this “august” assemblage is wonder if Donald Trump is just f%$#ing with them.
If this is the case, I cannot conceive of a more deserving group of dissolute reprobates.
It appears that the administration is not respecting the sacred seating chart:
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, in the West Wing, has seven rows of seven seats. The Associated Press, Reuters, and the biggest TV networks have reserved seats in the front row; blogs like Politico and Real Clear Politics are near the middle; BuzzFeed and the BBC are in the back. The seating chart is the purview of the White House Correspondents’ Association, an independent board of journalists who, with the sombre secrecy of a papal conclave, assess news organizations according to factors such as regularity of coverage and centrality to the national discourse.
There are also correspondents who might be called floaters—those who have White House credentials but no assigned seat. Some floaters work for outlets that are too new to have been included in the most recent seating chart; others work for outlets that are marginal or disreputable. When press briefings are half empty, floaters can find vacant seats. In the early days of the Trump Administration, when each day’s briefing is oversubscribed, floaters pack the aisles, angling for a spot visible from the podium. The paradigmatic example of a floater is Raghubir Goyal, an amiable, somewhat absent-minded man in his sixties. Goyal claims to represent the India Globe, a newspaper that, as far as anyone can tell, is defunct. Nevertheless, he has attended briefings since the Carter Administration, and has asked so many questions about Indo-American relations that his name has become a verb. “To Goyal”: to seek out a reporter who is likely to provide a friendly question, or a moment of comic relief. All press secretaries get cornered, and all have, on occasion, Goyaled their way out. But no one Goyals like Spicer.
Until recently, the more established White House correspondents have regarded floaters as a harmless distraction—the equivalent of letting a batboy sit in the dugout. Now they are starting to see the floaters as an existential threat. “It’s becoming a form of court-packing,” one White House correspondent told me. Outlets that have become newly visible under the Trump Administration include One America News Network, which was founded in 2013 as a right-wing alternative to Fox News; LifeZette, a Web tabloid founded in 2015 by Laura Ingraham, the radio commentator and Trump ally; Townhall, a conservative blog started by the Heritage Foundation; the Daily Caller, co-founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson, now a Fox News host; and the enormously popular and openly pro-Trump Breitbart News Network. Most of the White House correspondents from these outlets are younger than thirty. “At best, they don’t know what they’re doing,” a radio correspondent told me. “At worst, you wonder whether someone is actually feeding them softball questions.” He added, “You can’t just have a parade of people asking, ‘When and how do you plan to make America great again?’ ”
For years, the first question of each press briefing has usually gone to the Associated Press, whose reporters sit in the middle of the front row. In Spicer’s first briefing, on January 21st, which lasted five and a half minutes, he uttered several verifiable falsehoods—“This was the largest audience to ever witness an Inauguration, period”—then left without taking any questions. For the first question of his second briefing, he called on the New York Post, whose reporter, sitting in the fifth row, was clearly surprised. He asked, “When will you commence the building of the border wall?” In Spicer’s third briefing, his first question went to a reporter from LifeZette, who wondered why the Administration hadn’t taken a harder line on immigration. Many of Spicer’s early briefings were unusually short—about half an hour, with ten minutes of prepared remarks in the beginning. He often escapes from the podium without facing many tough questions from mainstream journalists. (This month, perhaps hoping to foreclose public scrutiny, or to starve “Saturday Night Live” of material, Spicer did his briefings off-camera for a week.)
Major Garrett, the chief White House correspondent for CBS News, sits in the front row. “Historically, the way the briefing room has been organized is, the closer you are, the farther you’ve come,” Garrett said. “And the person at the podium has tended to recognize that.” More experienced reporters, he said, “ask questions that are sharper, more informed. Not, ‘What’s your message today?’ Not, ‘Here’s a paintbrush—would you paint us a pretty picture?’ ” If established reporters got fewer questions relative to the floaters, I asked, would this be good or bad for democracy? “We’ll see,” Garrett said. “We’re engaged in a grand experiment.”
A TV correspondent told me that calling on front-row reporters first isn’t just about appealing to their egos: “It’s also about maintaining a sense of predictability, a sense that eventually the substantive questions will be answered. Throwing that into chaos—‘Maybe you’ll get a question, if you shout loud enough, who knows?’—makes everyone desperate and competitive and makes us look like a bunch of braying jackals. Which I don’t think is an accident.”
A longtime Washington reporter from a mainstream network echoed that sentiment. “I don’t mind them bringing in conservative voices that they feel have been underrepresented,” he said. “Personally, I don’t even mind them f%$#ing with the front-row guys, the Jonathan Karls of the world. Those guys are a smug little cartel, and it’s fun to watch them squirm, at least for a little while. But at what point does it start to delegitimize the whole idea of what happens in that room? When does it cross the line into pure trolling?”
I hope that Trump and his Evil Minions™ are trolling the press.
It’s long overdue, and it is an indication that perhaps those smug guys in the front to stop preening at press briefing, and return to shoe leather journalism.
It’s clear that the Bob Woodward model of context free access journalism simply does not cut it these days.
It hasn’t for decades.