An article by a former White House press aide demanding an end to the televised daily briefing begs the question of whether the White House is floating a trial balloon that could lead to the briefing’s cancellation.
Reid Cherlin, a former Obama press aide who is now a freelance journalist, has just published a piece in The New Republic titled “End the White House Press Briefing,” arguing that the session has become a pointless exercise that fails to generate news.
While it can’t be proven that anyone in the White House influenced the piece, Cherlin spent years in the bunker with other aides to President Obama and presumably remains in touch with them – or at the very least knows their disposition on the briefing.
The briefing is a daily source of frustration for the White House, which is forced to endure at least some difficult questions each day and dodge them in a way that belies its claim to “openness.”
Cherlin was an Obama adviser for four years, including service on the 2007-2008 presidential campaign and two years in the White House press office after Obama took office. His role as a press aide was in fact to prepare the press secretary for the daily briefings. He also served as a key spokesman for Obamacare while the White House was trying to pass it. Cherlin, though, has suggested in the past that he views his journalism as independent.
In the piece, Cherlin quotes a few current and former White House journalists, but only one – former AP White House reporter Ron Fournier – who says the briefing is a waste of time.
Cherlin presents as Exhibit A for his case a recent episode in which Press Secretary Jay Carney repeatedly sought to dodge questions about whether the White House considered the military takeover in Egypt a “coup,” a term that would force a cutoff of aid. He even mocked Carney a bit – as I did recently for the same crime – for saying he was being blunt while actually being vague.
Ironically, Carney’s responses, however subtle, produced important news. By not labeling what was obviously a coup as such, Carney established that the White House was reluctant to do something that would end assistance to Egypt. Further, he put the nation’s new leaders on notice by indicating the White House would observe their behavior while taking its time to come to a conclusion about what is or isn’t a coup.
Meanwhile – and here’s where the White House’s real problem with the briefing comes in – it showcased how the White House bends reality to suit its needs, making the exchange a serious exercise in accountability.