A disturbing trend is taking place in the White House, and the precedents that are being set could adversely affect how you get your information from the president of the United States in the future.
White House press briefings, which have typically been daily affairs in administrations prior to President Donald Trump, have dwindled down to events that now take place less than a handful of times per month, according to reporting from CNN. Since the start of June, for instance, there have only been 14 White House “daily” press briefings. In September alone, there was only one.
When asked whether the press briefing, which used to be a reliable (and daily) mainstay in the White House, was going extinct, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders brushed the idea aside, though she did say they were becoming less significant as the administration was exploring “a number of different ways” to bring the views of the president to the people. Some of those ways included having Trump himself speak to the press, Sanders explained.
“We try to do that a lot, and you’ve seen us do that a lot over the last three weeks, and that’s going to take the place of a press briefing when you can talk to the President of the United States.”
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) October 1, 2018
Typically when Trump speaks to the press, however, it’s in conjunction with someone else, like a foreign dignitary. Yet late last week, Trump engaged directly with reporters in what was just his second solo press conference since taking office.
The event served more of a reminder of how limited Trump officials tended to share their thoughts on the issues of the day directly with the press rather than through their own means (like Twitter, for instance). The press conference by Trump also included many questionable claims, including the president suggesting that world leaders were laughing with him rather than at him during the UN General Assembly, according to reporting from Esquire.
In that type of event, although reporters can ask the president questions on his statements, it’s hard to rebut him or prepare follow-up questions. In reality, Trump runs the show when he runs his mouth.
And notably, neither of the two press conferences Trump has held by himself in his first 2-plus years in office came during prime time viewing hours, meaning that they occurred during the work day — when millions of Americans were unable to take it all in.
The diminishing number of press briefings at the White House conducted by Sanders, as well as a significantly smaller count of press conferences held by Trump himself, is a stark reminder that this administration aims to control the messaging (and thus, the news cycle itself) in a controversial and worrisome way. Certainly, administrations in the past have sought to do things in a similar fashion, but for an administration that regularly picks-and-chooses which news organizations are worth speaking to and which they’ll (wrongly) label as “fake news,” it should sound off some pretty loud alarm bells.
It is important for the press to get information about the executive branch straight to the American people whenever possible — and sometimes, getting that information through a device that isn’t necessarily comfortable for the administration to take part in (such as a press conference or a daily briefing) helps reveal more of what’s truly going on in the administration than anything else. If anything else, these briefings are necessary to keep Trump and his officials on their toes, to be held to account for what they have promised the people of this country.
In short, the substantial curtailing of these press events that used to be regular fixtures in the White House should worry every American who cares about what direction this administration is taking us down — and whether or not we’ll be privy to details of that direction in the near future.