If those two conditions were to be true and constant, I’d agree with Mr. Cherlin. But, they needn’t be.
I worked in the White House press office in the late 80s, before the Internet and before the onslaught of cable news channels and their ubiquitous talking heads who typically take one extreme position or another and take it over and over all day. The briefings have become even more performance art than they were in my day. But, and I don’t mean to sound like my father but, “in my day,” they also served a purpose. News was committed many days. Why? I think that when my former boss Marin Fitzwater (Reagan and Bush 41) and folks like Mike McCurry (Clinton) conducted those press briefings they understood what the press needed to get their job done and what the President needed to get the White House’s job done. Sometimes, news was made. Or at least explanations were given. And there was nothing wrong with that. The citizenry wins when that happens.
Another key ingredient was that in those days we had “real”reporters covering the White House – Terry Hunt of AP, Sam Donaldson of ABC, Bill Plante of CBS, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal” and others. Yes, there are real reporters among the White House press brigade today but far fewer than in those days. They have to do too many things – write blogs, write news stories, and sometimes take pictures -- to do their jobs. Their primary job should be to get the facts, confirm the facts and write the facts.
So the briefing is a performance art on both sides.
But the solution isn’t to eliminate them; the solution is to fix them. Get whoever the President is to govern, and not campaign for re-election every day of his administration. The White House can be more candid than it is with what’s going on. Get the members of the press corps to focus on doing their jobs for the public, not to further their own careers and bank accounts.
Watch Gwen Ifill’s “Washington Week” on PBS if you want to see real reporters talking about the news, not preaching their views. Then watch CNN or Fox or MSNBC and see the difference when their “best political team(s) on television” get on air to talk about the news – you’d think they were spokesmen for the political left or right – and many of them are.
This may be why many Americans are getting their news from Jon Stewart or Steve Colbert. It also may be why the White House Correspondents’Dinner is populated more by Hollywood bold-face names than reporters and their sources, as it used to be.
All of this contributes to the disapproval so many Americans have for our governing, or lack thereof, and the media.
Neither is servicing those Americans’ needs – they are servicing them own selfish needs.