December 30, 2016

Is President Trump going to adhere to the presidential tradition of press conferences?

Here's a transcript of Hugh Hewitt's conversation with Sean Spicer, who will be the new White House Press Secretary. They're talking about whether President Trump will have the same kind of press conferences we've seen from past presidents, which Hewitt characterized as "regular" and "energetic."

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?

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.
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.

60 comments:

Steven Wilson said...

Regular and lively is not how I would have chosen to characterize press conferences. First thing I think of is obsequious and evasive. But I'm growing increasingly cynical. I'm sure press conferences under Trump will be more confrontational.

exhelodrvr1 said...

How often does something of value come out of those press conferences? Maybe 5% of the time? They are either a circle-jerk, when the President is a Democrat, or a "let's try to get him" session, when the President is a Republican.

rhhardin said...

Have formal press conferences but only with writers for women's magazines accredited, to mock what the MSM tradition is.

rhhardin said...

Tradition is always both an imposition and a choice.

Just don't choose it and it's gone.

Wilbur said...

The Knights of the Keyboard may discover they're not as exalted and special as they believe. Certainly not in the eyes of the millions and millions of people who despise and utterly distrust them.

I hope our new President tells the MSM to go take a long walk off a short pier.

Once written, twice... said...

Ann, within a year you will be embarrassed that you did not do one critical post about Trump during his rise in 2016.

mockturtle said...

Press conferences are an anachronism. So is the DC press corps.

rehajm said...

Trump will master the presidential use of Nexflix 4k Fireplace for Your Home on Snapchat.

mikee said...

I'd suggest Trump take questions only from those reporters who have NOT been identified as Democrat operatives - the 65 or so US journalists who were colluding with Hillary's campaign, as demonstrated by the wikileaked emails, should be noted as corrupt every time they open their mouths. And the rest should be asked to verify that they are NOT colluding with Democrats every time they ask a question.

Hagar said...

Dis-intermediate?

This is like watching Trump/Obama live on Fox News, and the next day reading the Albuquerque Morning Democrat's report of what they said?

Bob Ellison said...

Twitter is a waste of time for me to use directly. Every interesting tweet finds its way to several web sites instantly.

I'd prefer something that could leverage both the rather traditional bully pulpit of the Presidency and the still benefit from the potentially useful expertise of the MSM.

How about this? Press-folks don't get to ask questions, but do get to make a list of "hot topics" for viewers to vote on, tweet about, etc. "None of the above" would always be an option. The list should be visible to Trump. He would probably point to the list pretty regularly and say, "That list is all wrong! We need a new press corps. Maybe just fly in ten folks picked randomly from the heartland."

Greg Hlatky said...

No. The media have proclaimed they're no longer an objective institution. They no longer deserve any deference.

traditionalguy said...

Trump has been a very bad President. He has gotten nothing done. His Presidency has been nothing but big words. Thank goodness we have condemned him for this failure.

And as for the sudden consumer confidence, stock market optimism, Russian good will, and Israel's relief at surviving, that all happened during the magnificent reign of Nobel Laureate, Obama The Great.

Sydney said...

Press conferences seem a bit anachronistic. We the people don't trust the media, so why bother with them?

traditionalguy said...

Seriously, DJT needs to let Roger Ailes select the "Journalists" to ask questions. They will likely be blonde bimbos in short skirts, but with one tall brunette for contrast.And then special guests can be brought out for a chat...maybe Farage as a comic, and Putin flexing his muscles in a tight shirt.

I trust P. T. Barnum Trump to put on the Greatest Press Conference on Earth.

Big Mike said...

Hillary didn't. Why should Trump?

Bob Boyd said...

Maybe what we're watching is Trump making a deal.

Mayor of Old Mediaville:"You don't like our terms Mr. Trump. Tough titties. You have to deal with us. There's no other site on Messenger Island suitable for your new hotel."

Trump: Actually there is. We're looking at building up the road in Faceberg-Twitterton. They want us and their terms are much more favorable."

Mayor of Oldmediaville:"But nobody who's anybody goes to Facebook-Twitterton. Why would they?"

Trump: "Because of my new hotel."

Mayor of Oldmediaville: "Oh..."

AllenS said...

Very good, Mr. Boyd.

Dave said...

Hewitt is frown Northeast Ohio, right? Probably means he's a Browns fan and the Steelers fan line was a dig at people he views as dumb.

The joke doesn't make a whole lot of sense but whatever.

Ann, it be like someone from Detroit saying something will confuse the Packers fans. But the Packers are a well run organization with plenty of titles and the Lions have consistently let down their fan base.

I guess the joke would make a little more sense if someone from WI or Western PA says this will confuse the Lions fans or Browns fans.

Still just a throwaway joke.

Not sure why I spent any of my precious time commenting on this unimportant topic on the internet but I love your blog and so infrequently get to add any color on a detail you may be missing, Ann, so there you go.

Go Steelers!

MayBee said...

"I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy,"

Geeze. When the president said this about a Senator, it was too exciting.
Now Democrats are saying this about the incoming President, and they don't care what affect it has.

mockturtle said...

Bob Boyd: Nicely done.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

"What about your gaaaaafes?"

Fuck the Media. They congratulated themselves for dropping any pretense of objectivity during the election--they wrote about how "this time it's different" so they didn't have to restrain their bad impulses. They wrote snarky articles, they used snarky chyron notes, they all got to play Jon Stewart for a few minutes, to the thunderous applause of their fellow Leftists. They assured everyone that Trump didn't have a chance--they staked their reputation and standing on bringing him down. Well, they failed. They were wrong--not just in what they (confidently) predicted, but in their approach to their own "craft." They took a side, and they lost. Now they want to pretend like they weren't combatants and that the fight never took place? Screw that, and screw them.

Ann Althouse said...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

Yes, just so. They went all in to defeat Trump and they lost--now they want to pretend like they still have some credibility or any argument at all for us to pay them any mind. These articles about how "now it's more important than ever to have an independent, probing media" are as good as confessions that they haven't been doing their jobs for the last 8 years. We know! They're basically partisan hacks. That's fine, in a way: there's a long history of the press being little more than partisan hacks. They want respect, though, as objective journalists, and they premise all their arguments (for their own influence, power, for the deference the public allegedly owes to their judgment) on that assertion. It's false, though, and they've helped expose just how false it is.

Look, when Dan Rather is pontificating about the need to take a stand against fake news...yeah, you morons have already lost.

Fuck the Media. If Trump helps point out that the Media emperor has no clothes--as his election itself already has--then more power to Trump.

Ann Althouse said...

"Hewitt is frown Northeast Ohio, right? Probably means he's a Browns fan and the Steelers fan line was a dig at people he views as dumb. The joke doesn't make a whole lot of sense but whatever."

I think it makes sense to his audience. I listen to Rush Limbaugh and know how inside jokes like that work. My quickie research showed that "Steelers fans" is Hewitt's "people from Port St. Lucie."

https://twitter.com/hughhewitt/status/716688050470973440

The Drill SGT said...

On the subject of those O'bama press events, it seemed to me that his alleged "press conferences" were always a long POTUS opening statement followed by taking 6-7 questions from pre-coordinated peeps and running out the clock

mezzrow said...

Perhaps the elite press will find more sympathy for the disintermediated workers of America after they earn the same fate. Perhaps. Or they can keep doubling down until they disappear completely.

Us boomers were wired to the belief that the government is handing you bullshit while the renegade press that speaks truth to power is giving you the straight scoop. That's been resident since the 60s and 70s, but our detectors are finally awakening to the fact that the bullshit is coming from the press, and nobody is giving us the straight scoop anywhere. You can buy what they are selling, or you can try to figure out what your matrix is and how to live within it.

How would we have explained this to our younger selves, professor?

Cheryl said...

I always found Obama's press conferences to be intentionally boring, like he was trying to drown us in words so we would quit listening. It worked on me.

Maybe Trump's choice is intentional...a boring press secretary so that his tweets and other direct communication seem that much more informative and strong. The boring press secretary has the advantage of being less threatening to the actual press.

EDH said...

I'm thinking some kind of Hunger Games for reporters who want to join the White House press corps.

Phil 3:14 said...

Just words.

Although Trump's will have shorter sentences, fewer syllables and more simple adjectives.

Michael K said...

"Probably means he's a Browns fan and the Steelers fan line was a dig at people he views as dumb."

Hewitt also makes snarky comments about USC. He talks about football and religion a bit too much for me. Otherwise I used to listen to him until they changed his time

The newspapers and magazine, like Vanity Fair and New Yorker, all have crazy lead stories attacking Trump. Why should he even call on them in press conferences?

Think Sam Donaldson when Reagan was president and then multiply it 100 times.

lemondog said...

As the MSM is in the business of fake news, let them write up questions along with the answers they think they will hear, saving on presidential/tax payer time and expense.

bgates said...

When the media sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you Althouse commenters. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing Democrat talking points. They’re bringing contempt. They’re liars. And some, I assume, are good people.

Michael K said...

Here are some examples of how the press is responding to a Trump presser.

Hysteria doesn't quite cover it.

EDH said...

"Is President Trump going to adhere to the presidential tradition of press conferences?"

From the context "follow the innovative tradition of the presidential press conference" would be a better title.

Big Mike said...

After the botched coverage of Katrina, after eight years covering for Obama's ineptitude, I wouldn't believe the press if they reported that the sun came up in the east this morning.

I think if Trump succeeded in ending poverty in America the headline at the Washington Post would be that Trump was costing all those social workers their jobs and the New York Times would complain that Hillary Clinton would have ended poverty in the whole hemisphere, and perhaps the whole world.

The technology exists to ignore the press; it's not that Trump needs them or owes them.

Darrell said...

Only accredit journalists that work for Media that got election predictions correct. That would be the LA Times, at last count.

Quaestor said...

Althouse wrote: I guess "Steelers fans" is Hewitt's way of referring to dumb people listening to the show...

Aficionados of the Pittsburgh Steelers may not be paradigm examples of the Unwashed Common Man, but they are an uncommonly raucous bunch, whose histrionics make the sports bar experience a kind of purgatory for those whose enthusiasm for NFL football tilts more toward apathy than insanity. For public displays of ungoverned emotion Steelers fans rank up there with SJW snowflakes and the on-air bedlam of MSNBC.

Go Steelers... all the out the door, and take your stupid towels with you, thank you very much.

Michael said...

Yes, part of Hewitt's on-air shtick is that he's a rapid Cleveland fan, and the Steelers are the Browns big rival.

When Trump (or any President) is in some other city than DC he should hold press conferences with the local media, not the White House correspondents. Let people see their own TV and newspaper people ask locally-relevant questions.

Mark said...

On the subject of those O'bama press events, it seemed to me that his alleged "press conferences" were always a long POTUS opening statement followed by taking 6-7 questions from pre-coordinated peeps and running out the clock

They were also always in the daytime, when people were at work, and in the press room.

Certainly, I do not remember Obama having any of the press conferences of the past -- in prime time, in the East Room, on live television by all of the networks, designed to provide reporters an opportunity to learn information rather than using the event as a vehicle to promote and spin a particular message/narrative.

steve uhr said...

Once again trump wants to throw out the baby with the bath water. Anything done previously by definition must be bad. On the other hand, you don't want your adversaries to see what an ignorant a dufus your president is. So might be the right call.

tcrosse said...

On the other hand, you don't want your adversaries to see what an ignorant a dufus your president is
Obama being a good cautionary example.

rcocean said...

I agree with the comments. Fuck the MSM. They've proved again and again that are on Team Hillary.

And these press conferences - for Republicans at least - were always about the Reporters trying to impress everyone by debating the (R)President, asking a gotcha question, or rambling on for five minutes. Rather got his CBS anchor slot by calling Nixon a crook in a Presser.

Obtaining actual info from the President was the last priority.

Get rid of the old fashioned Press conference and have one-on-one interviews or if you keep it, give 1/2 questions to friendly reporters and bloggers. I'd love to see a question from CBS and then a question from Althouse.

JAORE said...

"...you did not do one critical post about Trump during his rise in 2016."

OMG, blind, deaf and stupid, a triple threat.

==========================================================


Obama pontificated through the majority of time in his "press" conferences. And then he faced 6-7 questions, many of them embarrassing softballs. Trump would be short-spoken and face dozens of questions. Many would fall under the, "When did you quit beating your wife?" category.

Should Obama say something of note in his conferences, especially of negative note, he was given the Truman treatment. It's just that his gaffes were covered up AFTER the conference, not before.

In addition Obama was given the "he said it, it must be true" treatment. I hardly think the press will do a 180 and give Trump the same benefit.

Dave said...

@Quaestor

Counterpoint: Steelers fans are the best!

rcocean said...

The old time TV Presidential Press conferences were big deals because - unless you had C-SPAN - you rarely saw the President talk for more than a couple minutes, except in a formal speech.

Before TV, it was more informal. FDR has weekly press conferences, but he couldn't be quoted directly unless he agreed to it, and anyone who asked a tough question got tossed out. You can actually read them online, and they consist of the reporters just asking FDR what he was going to do about this or that.


rcocean said...

I'm not a big Hewitt fan. He's a Corporate RINO who's gotten into this mess. During the 90s he attacked anyone who wanted to deal with illegal immigration a "Racist". He supported Bush's amnesty and called anyone who wanted to build a border fence "racist" and even attacked the people who derailed the Myers SCOTUS nomination.

He was attacking and smearing Trump until Trump got the nomination and then he more or less fell in line. He wasn't as stupid as Erik Erik Erickson or Jonah Goldberg but he was close.

Comanche Voter said...

Who knew that Sean Spicer would immediately transform himself into Jen Psaki?

FullMoon said...

Once written, twice... said... [hush]​[hide comment]

Ann, within a year you will be embarrassed that you did not do one critical post about Trump during his rise in 2016.


Seems to remember AA going overboard after the "grab 'em by the pussy" thing. Maybe you missed it.

David said...

Too Bad Kellyanne did not end up with this job. I am not sure she wanted it. But she would have been great.

FullMoon said...

Trump will call on reporters to stand and ask a question. Then he will read a derogatory quote that particular reporter made in the past, and explain how the reporter lied about what Trump said, and how the reporter is a liar and an asshole. In prime time.

GWash said...

i would advise herr trump to keep his mouth shut as much as possible since no one and i mean NO ONE (even his highness) knows what the hell he is talking about or means... constant various interpretations coming post comment trying to explain 'what he meant to say'... this vagueness has served him well in his grifting business deals but won't cut it as 'leader' of the 'free world'... donald, take a security briefing please..i know you are smart, why not show it once in a while... watch your wallets they are coming... 20 million folks will summarily lose their insurance shortly with no plan for a replacement... and that's just a start.. bye bye SS and Medicare you are next... National Parks who needs them when Trump Inc can sell the natural resources for a profit?... it's going to be a rocky couple of years...

Mark said...

Seems to remember AA going overboard after the "grab 'em by the pussy" thing. Maybe you missed it.

Of course, the rest of the media and Establishment were going nuts at that time too, demanding that Trump withdraw. And the over-the-top hysteria of it all BACKFIRED on them big time.

It was precisely at that juncture that many people, seeing the hypocritical blood-in-the-water BS for what it was, and folks realizing that we could NEVER allow these mouth-foamers to be in power, began to consider voting Trump after all rather than staying home. And their behavior post-election has proven their decision right.

Cacimbo Cacimbo said...

Is standing before a group of adherents who pummel you with questions about how great you are truly a press conference?

rcocean said...

Here's a headline that shows why Trump should treat the Press with contempt, its from "The Hill":

- Nixon's Lawyer accuses Trump of Lying"

And its about John Dean! Y'know the liberal who stabbed Nixon in the back, attacked Ford and Reagan and who got Earl Butz fired. But this liberal Democrat who's never said a good word about Republican President since Nixon is just labeled as "Nixon's Lawyer".

Quaestor said...

@ Dave

Pointercount: The best what?

Quaestor said...

Nixon's Lawyer Accuses Trump of Lying

Correction: Nixon's incompetent lawyer...

If Dean hadn't fallen prey to a classy call girl the whole Watergate fiasco wouldn't have happened.

readering said...

Eventually Trump will hold press conferences, but let's face it, for now he doesn't know enough about policy to handle extemporaneous remarks on a wide and unpredictable variety of subjects. The risk of serious gaffes in an era where the president is no longer able to revise his remarks is just too great.

Tim said...

Blogger FullMoon said...
Trump will call on reporters to stand and ask a question. Then he will read a derogatory quote that particular reporter made in the past, and explain how the reporter lied about what Trump said, and how the reporter is a liar and an asshole. In prime time.

12/30/16, 10:55 AM

Dear God I hope so!

steve uhr said...

Most questions at these press conferences are softballs because the vain press wants to suck up to Donald and make sure they are called on at the next conference. Still, Donald is scared. He must have a pretty low opinion of his grasp of facts and policy.

mockturtle said...

Steve uhr surmises: Most questions at these press conferences are softballs because the vain press wants to suck up to Donald and make sure they are called on at the next conference. Still, Donald is scared. He must have a pretty low opinion of his grasp of facts and policy.

Are you saying that the press asks questions to which they really want answers, as opposed to playing 'gotcha'? Questions geared toward Trump in the debates tended to be more like personal attacks than questions. Why would this change? The press corps has outlived--and demolished--their own usefulness.

mockturtle said...

Its own usefulness.