SYNDICATED COLUMN: By Law the President Should Have to Give Daily Press Conferences

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News conferences are a double oxymoron. Pressers aren’t conferences; conferences involve back-and-forth communication. Nor do they have anything to do with news. News is neither created nor conveyed at a press conference.

The one place in the world where news is least likely to happen is a press conference. If I were in charge of a media organization the last thing I’d spend money on would be a White House correspondent whose role is to sit politely holding up his or her hand, hoping like a compliant schoolchild to be called upon, begging for the privilege of being lied to.

Though there was that time an Iraqi journalist tried to bean George W. Bush with his shoe. Muntadhar al-Zaidi. He’s a journalist. And that was a news-making press conference.

Whatever CNN paid Jim Acosta to transcribe Donald Trump’s BS was too much. Even so, we owe Acosta for pushing the president so far that he yanked his reporter’s press pass in a fit of pique. With a brusque instruction to his despicable minister of propaganda Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump simultaneously exposed his authoritarian personality so that none could deny it. Even Fox News was alarmed, joining CNN’s (probably doomed) lawsuit against the president. “Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized,” quoth Fox’s Chris Wallace.

Trump threatened to revoke more White House press passes should his journalistic stenographers displease him.

The Acosta affair has convinced me of something I’ve been mulling for a long time: the president of the United States should be required to hold an hour-long daily press conference. Unless there’s a national emergency like 9/11. Then he can skip a day.

Why, if press conferences are total BS—and they are—should the president have to do them? Because this a democracy. Trump is not a king.

Roman emperors and generals rode through their triumphs next to a slave who whispered “remember you are mortal” in their ears lest their success convince them they were gods. Presidents should be required to host press confabs so they remember that they are not the people’s boss. Presidents are our servants. They are our slaves. They are accountable to we, the people or, the next best thing in this case, the people’s scribes. Presidents owe us answers.

The death of press conferences reflects the dedemocratization of America’s politics and the rise of an imperial attitude that belies the country’s moral and economic decline. During Donald Trump’s first year in office he held just one old-fashioned solo press conference.

The trend has not been a straight line but the overall track is unmistakable. Obama held seven during his first year, Bush 43 had four, Clinton 11, H.W. Bush 27, Reagan six, Carter 22.

JFK held an average of 23 press conferences a year. Track them down on YouTube; the witty banter and jovial self-confidence is a sad reminder of what we’ve lost.

Trump is not a king, American presidents are not kings, but even that comparison of accessibility is unfair—to hereditary monarchs. In many societies kings and queens were expected to clear their schedules for royal audiences where subjects could lodge petitions and plead grievances. These events are depicted in the alt-medieval fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” In India medieval kings, and then Mughal emperors appeared at their balcony for the Jharokha Darshan, a daily audience where the public griped, groused and begged for royal indulgence.

There will be those who argue that the president is too busy to meet the press. Fortunately, there is ample proof that Donald Trump, like Barack Obama and George W. Bush before him, have more than free time to make themselves available. He, like most former presidents, play the hours-long, fake sport of golf.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

6 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: By Law the President Should Have to Give Daily Press Conferences

  1. By Law the President Should Have to Give Daily Press Conferences

    And should, «by law», people who call themselves «journalists» be required to attend, Ted ?…

    Henri

  2. Interesting observations – especially the commonalities and differences with respect to petitioning of kings. They supposedly held divine power – but still left this safety valve in place.

    To add one point: one of the primary taboos of media is to let themselves see that they themselves are part of politics rather than objective observers. Indeed, media personas will go to comical lengths to unsee this fact even when things are obviously staged: e.g. tank invasions happen in the dark of the night to co-incide with at east coast primetime (Somalia) necessitating movie sets complete with spotlights for the sake of same camera crews (Somalia).

    Now the very institution of a press conference is precisely to instrumentalize the media to use as a microphone for some particular story/perspective/action/framing – no other staging necessary. Obviously. As are press releases. Of course, media are still usually institutionally incapable to recognize this – i.e. noting the timing of a press conference to co-incide with some negative lawsuit or noting that a legally mandated release was scheduled for Friday to quietly vanish, etc.

    That we are waxing nostalgic about even those absurd institutions – now obsolete in the age of Twitter? – says a lot about the absurdity of the times.

  3. The journalists’ job in these press conferences seem futile, any president doesn’t really want to answer the questions.
    And then DJT says the White House press room is a “sacred space” and Acosta is rude. He wants reporters to bow to him, be stenographers not critical questioners.

  4. The press conference has always reminded me of one of the four standard plot offerings of TV: the plain girl, who has pined and pined for the really hot guy, gets her chance, and makes a complete ass of herself. She discards self-respect, friendly advice, all good sense, and throws herself at him. If it works out okay in the end somehow, it goes in the marginally adequate sit-com. If she goes home and starts purging or cutting herself, it goes in an ABC Afterschool Special or a very special episode of “Blossom.”
    I wish the press would finally have the moment where it wakes up in the gutter, covered in its own (and others’) vomit, and staggers home, showers off the filth and has a long look in the mirror. I wish the press would, just once, present a united, suspicious, confrontational, skeptical front to the president. Any president.
    President: Questions? … Only one? Okay, John.
    John Journalist: Mr. President. Did you murder that hooker and try to bury her dismembered body in the Rose Garden?
    President: No comment. Next question. … Again only one hand. Okay. Jill?
    Jill Journalist: Mr. President. Did you murder that hooker and try to bury her dismembered body in the Rose Garden? and, yes, that’s the only question we’re going to ask you, one by one, until you answer it sufficiently. And we aren’t going to give up. So let’s go. Chop chop.

  5. I’d rather see a trash talkin’ tag-team wrestling match between the the president and press corp; the format change shouldn’t alter its essence much, while at the same time being much more entertaining.

    The press corp could still take their fake falls in order to maintain the lifeblood of their personal access to power.

  6. I like it! But maybe it should really be a conference – i.e. an exchange of information.

    Neither Trump nor Bush are very good on “reality” or “current events” – so forcing them to sit down and LISTEN just might help. Okay, so maybe they would listen in the same sense as a rock listens, but we’d at least have a recording of them receiving the information that we could play back the next time they try to bullshit us…

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