By Joe Concha
President Trump on Friday floated the idea of canceling the long-standing daily press briefing, suggesting handing out written responses to questions instead "for the sake of accuracy."
"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???"
The White House press briefing has been around for 18 years longer than Trump, beginning in 1929. No president has remotely suggested canceling it. But Trump is like no president before him.
So while the White House press briefing cannot be canceled outright for obvious reasons, such as the need to inform the public and political transparency, it can and must be altered from the soap opera it has become.
Very little actual news seems to emerge from the Sean Spicer/Sarah Huckabee Sanders briefings, but the clips go viral almost daily anyway. Not because of substance or things that affect people's lives, of course, but because Spicer or Sanders may have sparred with a reporter who knows full well the event is live and being watched by millions, and who views it as an opportunity to enhance his/her visibility/brand further.
For example, there was ample talk on the campaign trail regarding spending, budgets and deficits. On Wednesday afternoon, it was announced by the Treasury Department that the government had a $182 billion budget surplus in April, which flew in the face of market expectations for a deficit. When compared to April of 2016, the surplus jumped an astonishing $76 billion, marking the largest April surplus since a record set 16 years ago in 2001.
Pretty big deal, right? Or how about jobless claims being at a 28-year low per another report this week?
You can guess how many questions were asked to Sarah Huckabee Sanders about it during the daily press briefing on Thursday? (Hint: It's the number you get when multiplying any number by zero).
Almost all questions focused on FBI Director Jim Comey's termination and the aftermath. Given how big the story is, that's fine.
But there are other news items that need to be addressed and asked about over the 48 minutes Spicer has averaged during his daily press briefings per an NBC News analysis. Comey or Russia can't be every question if informing the public is the goal.
Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who worked for President George W. Bush, made two tremendous points during an interview with me last month on how we could improve the daily press briefing.
First, take the briefing off of live TV. Here's why.
"The briefing would be cameras in the back of the room, film it all, but there would be no live coverage," Fleischer explained. "So if CNN wants to replay the entire briefing at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, they could. I doubt they ever would but they could."
Fleischer has advocated this for years, as has former President Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry.
"It gives the TV cameras everything the print guys have but it’s not a live TV show," Fleischer continued. "I think that would cool things down and calm things down a little bit, and be more old-fashioned in the conveyance of information, as opposed to two sides posturing and fighting on air."
Second, rotate in some other reporters to help steer the conversation away from political drama. "There are 750 reporters credentialed to cover the White House, and there's only 49 seats in that room," Fleischer explained.
"Forty-nine seats really go to the mainstream media largely. I would update that and give those seats on a rotating basis to an entirely new group of reporters in addition to the press corps — business press, foreign journalists, social media day with the left dot-coms and the right dot-coms."
Given that economic matters are always the top issue for voters, the business reporter rotation makes all the sense in the world. Foreign press is a great idea as well given how volatile the world is now and how global our economy has become. Giving smaller Internet publications an avenue for one day a week would be fair as well.
Under that scenario, wouldn't the public truly be more informed?
Don't scrap the daily press briefing for a laundry list of reasons.
But improve it by following the sage advice of Ari Fleischer.
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