I had to stop and check to see what the tradition of press conferences really is. Has it been distinct and consistent? Here's a piece from the White House Historical Association. Woodrow Wilson started the practice of press conferences, and all of his successors (so far) have used it.
Calvin Coolidge considered it "rather necessary to the carrying on of our republican institution that the people should have a fairly accurate report of what the president is trying to do." Fairly accurate. Trying to do.
JFK — who's right in the middle of the line of men that begins with Wilson and ends with Obama — gave the first live, televised press conferences. Up until Eisenhower, the sessions were not even on the record, and the President retained the power to rewrite his quotes. When Truman said "I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy," the reporters helped him see that the quote was too exciting and they even assisted him in mushing it up into: "The greatest asset that the Kremlin has is the partisan attempt in the Senate to sabotage the bipartisan foreign policy of the United States."
JFK made the televised press conference into something that served his agenda and suited his particular gifts and desired image. Later Presidents accepted Kennedy's approach but also adapted it. George H. W. Bush introduced the joint press conference with world leaders. Obama has often substituted interviews with one chosen reporter. In his first 2 years, Obama did 21 Kennedy-style press conferences to a roomful of reporters and 269 of those one-on-one encounters.
With that background on presidential press conferences, let's get back to Hewitt and Spicer:
SEAN SPICER: ... I think the thing that you’ve seen with Donald Trump is that he doesn’t, he doesn’t look to the past and say I’ve got to conform to these precedents. He figures out what’s the best way. And so maybe we do, you know, a series of press conferences, but maybe we do some town hall, you know, Facebook town halls. Maybe we go out and solicit input from Twitter. I don’t, I mean, the answer is we’re looking at a lot of things.I think that is the tradition — adaptation to changing technology and exploitation of what works for the particular President.
SEAN SPICER: But there’s no question that you see through the platforms that exist right now, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, he’s closing in like 45 million people that he can have a conversation with, that there are new and modern tools that exist that while we have to sort of do these press conferences because they’re part of the fabric of our country, if you will, there are also some new opportunities that we can be utilizing to bring more people into the process and have a conservation with the American people and not just limit it through the filter of the mainstream media.Remember that Coolidge quote: The press conference was a means to the end which was reaching the American people. What happens now that the President can get straight to the people? I'd say it's similar to the way Presidents have spoken directly to the people in press releases and televised speeches. The real issue here is how much the media will be able to rely on its traditional access.
HEWITT: But Sean, you know by dis-intermediating the media, that’s a big word, it’s going to confuse the Steelers fans...I guess "Steelers fans" is Hewitt's way of referring to dumb people listening to the show (like Rush Limbaugh and the people of Port St. Lucie).
... but by doing it, you’re going to upset them.The media are already upset, so what has Trump got to lose? They kind of blew that leverage, didn't they? The only real question is whether the people will be upset if the President's communication is not filtered through the media.
That’s how they make their money, right? If they don’t, if the President can go directly to the people repeatedly, they are out of, they’re out of gas in a certain respect, aren’t they?The media ran out of gas on its own. Trump didn't force them to drive like that. Trump knows they hate him and are out to get him. He can't play JFK up there on the podium. The media should have preserved their ability to say he must by at least preserving the impression that they'd treat him with respect.
Spicer puts it in terms of what's best for the people — the people, who are to be distinguished from the "establishment" and the "elites":
SPICER: Yeah, but that’s the point, is that I’ve said this before, Hugh. Business as usual is over. And I think what I mean by that is that you know, the President-elect looks at this and says what’s best for the country? How do we put America and Americans first and stop trying to figure out how we cater to you know, pundits and the establishment class, big donors. He is putting Americans first and foremost. And when he talks about Americans first, he means I don’t care what a bunch of elites tell me or people at a dinner party. He wants to know what American workers care about, what American families care about, what’s going to help American businesses grow.Once Spicer gets going, he rolls on, in full, boring propagandistic style until you realize you're not listening anymore:
And so yes, if we have to maintain some traditions, we’ll maintain them. And I think, but the point that we’re doing with everything, whether it’s the people or the processes, if we’re looking at them and saying can we do these things better, and bring more Americans into them, respect the American taxpayer more, and yield a better result, but that’s how he, that’s sort of, when we talk about the businesslike approach to the presidency, it’s not, it’s more of a philosophy which says can we do it smarter and better so that we respect the American taxpayer and we give them a better product, right?Blah blah blah. Spicer is no Donald Trump. He won't make short, sharp, clear statements. Get ready for the boring. Well, this is what the press is going to get. Meanwhile, normal human beings will be reading Twitter.
And so I think that’s where sometimes the liberal media gets this wrong. It’s not saying we’re going to treat it like a business, quote unquote. It’s making sure that there’s a mentality that says can we make sure we get the American people a better product for their money so that they’re enjoying their lives better, they have more opportunity, we’re growing jobs, wages have a better thing, and you know, that regulations are a fundamental part of them, where we’re looking at them and saying what can we ensure we do so that we’re not hampering businesses from helping our own people get more in their paycheck.