NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith, of course, was the ideal moderator for Beyond the Briefing Room: Tales from the White House Beat. Having been a part of Capitol Hill as a two-term senator (Republican, Oregon), he knows more than most about the communications side of several presidents. But as everyone realizes, “There’s never been one like Trump”, “He’s his own communications director”.
On the panel were four veterans: Yamiche Alcindor from PBS, NBC’s Hallie Jackson, radio historian extraordinaire and from CBS, Steven Portnoy, along with ABC’s Cecilia Vega. One could only wonder why no one from Fox had been invited…
This Q&A was more of a chat entre amis, with the current president being the only unseen elephant in the room.
And so we heard about the history of the Press Corp (from McKinley forward) and how President Wilson disparaged fake news.
As they would many times, the panel agreed that Trump’s ubiquitous use of Twitter had made them chomp at the news bit virtually 24/7 in the early days of his presidency, but had more recently concluded that his frequent, random tweets are more attention grabbers than real news headlines/stories.
Everyone also lamented the sad state of political affairs with strident bipartisanship and the preponderance of “being against everything” rather than for something (e.g., where is the comprehensive Republican plan to replace Obamacare should it ever be scrapped). Smith fondly recalled “getting things done” on both sides of the aisle during the Obama years.
The panel also conceded that in this era of the press being “the enemy of the people” many journalists—including themselves on occasion—had become part of the problem by rising to the incendiary bait and making their points more with tone rather than facts (although from a revenue point of view it was admitted that “snark sells”) or taking the president’s insults and putdowns personally. In the CNN affair of sudden loss of accreditation to the White House (Jim Acosta), virtually every broadcaster fought back (including Fox), when it was understood that this brazen action—if not stopped now—could well undermine the First Amendment and become a precedent.
The lack of daily briefings in favour of scrums on the lawn with Marine One’s rotors offering Trump the easy response of “Sorry, I didn’t hear that” to questions he’d rather not face, shows just how far the current administration regards the press/media as more of a nuisance than a substantive body of reporters working on behalf of the country and all of its citizens.
There was also unanimity that “the jury is still out” regarding the Mueller Report. Bring on the redactions and fill in your own blanks! Just today, Attorney General William Barr says that, “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign.
Finally, no one fell for Smith’s loaded question, “Do you think Trump will be re-elected.” It is their job to report the facts—not predict them!
And three cheers to the Nielsen organization for hosting a reception that let attendees enjoy some wonderful appetizers, a fine selection of drinks (no matter what your taste) and allow business to happen spontaneously rather than after the de rigueur company presentation which, seemingly, always starts late and runs on too long. Here’s to more imitators of this extra-effective way of learning, sharing and enjoying. JWR