Personally, I enjoy watching Sean Spicer spar with the press. It’s good entertainment. But press briefings don’t make sense in 2017. And they certainly don’t make sense for a Trump presidency. I’ll tell you why.
The role of press briefings is to create two complementary illusions. The first illusion is that the administration is providing new and useful information. That rarely happens. And when it does, it could have been done more easily in the form of a press release in response to a written inquiry. A written response can be faster than a press briefing because it doesn’t depend on a scheduled meeting time in the future.
The second illusion created by the press briefings is that “news” is being manufactured in that room. The reality is that artisanal “gotcha” moments are lovingly crafted by the press. That means the so-called news from press briefings is generally fake news, and that would be true no matter the administration in power.
It can be super-expensive for a news organization to do investigative journalism. It might take months to do the research and it can result in no story at all. But the gotcha questions at a press briefing are cheap, and they are the incubators of fake news that feed the media machine. That’s good for the press, but the public doesn’t need any of that, except for entertainment.
The other big reason for eliminating press briefings is the uniqueness of President Trump. No surrogate can speak for our current president and expect to stay consistent and accurate. The president’s persuasion system involves a lot of flexibility with the facts, as well as moving people’s attention and energy where he needs it. Realistically, no surrogate can hope to match what President Trump does, or even to stay consistent with it. And as long as the president is willing to do lots of on-camera interviews, the press should get plenty of easy-to-mine news right from the source. No press briefing needed.
Imagine, instead of press briefings, the White House creates a web page to handle questions from the press. The page would give special question-asking privileges to the legitimate press, along with follow-up privileges as needed. And answers could be provided all day long, as questions arise. Some of the answers can be in the form of video clips, for easy sharing. Perhaps even the questions from reporters could be in video form. The public could weigh in on both the questions and the answers.
This system would provide faster and more precise answers from the White House. The only downsides are the press would have fewer gotcha stories, and their correspondents would have less camera time. But I think they can get over that.
You might enjoy reading my book because press briefings and communication.
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