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Wednesday, March 3, 2021


Stephanie Grisham is Right: White House Briefings Not Needed

[dropcap style=”dropcap_style1″ textcolor=”#000000″ background=”#ffffff” fontweight=”900″]Here was the headline from The Hill:

Ex-White House press, military officials call on Grisham to restart regular briefings

The story begins this way:

“A group of 13 former White House press secretaries, foreign service and military officials on Friday called on President Trump’s current press secretary Stephanie Grisham to restart regular briefings, saying the public ‘has a right to know what its government is doing, and the government has a duty to explain what it is doing.’”

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham has said no. Those televised White House briefings are not needed. I would politely suggest she is right – and here’s why.

I say this as a former press secretary to a U.S. Congressman and U.S. Senator. I also worked in the White House, although in the Political Affairs office, not the press shop.

With respect to all those (ahem, mostly Obama and Clinton) ex-press secretaries? Stephanie Grisham is right.

Remember that small moment in history known as the Watergate scandal? Which in the day, and ever after, had journalists and journalism celebrated? Here’s a small fact about that event that strangely never seems to get mentioned these days when writing about the relations between President Trump and the White House press corps.

The Watergate scandal was famously unearthed by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. But Woodward was a general assignment reporter and Bernstein wrote about people and neighborhoods in Washington, sometimes writing about rock and roll, sometimes doing investigative pieces. Importantly? Neither one was a White House correspondent.

And right there is the often-overlooked point. The Watergate scandal had been unfolding literally right down the hall from the White House press briefing room, which was, then as now, stocked to the gills with reporters. Yet not one of them uncovered Watergate.  That was done by the young Woodward and Bernstein – two young, hungry reporters who were a world away, journalistically speaking, from the White House.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham

[dropcap style=”dropcap_style1″ textcolor=”#000000″ background=”#ffffff” fontweight=”900″]There was a reason for this. I say this politely, with all due respect to both the ex-press secretaries and the White House Correspondents Association in general – but the hard fact is Watergate, then the biggest scandal in White House history was uncovered by non-White House correspondents precisely because they weren’t being hand-fed briefing info every day. The fact is that reporters who cover an institution – the White House, the House or Senate or a Cabinet department don’t get out much. With reason. They are generally always locked into the building they cover, taking stories as they are fed them. Always operating with peers who are in exactly the same situation.

Woodward and Bernstein had none of that to limit them. So they were off and running on their incredible investigation. Tracking down their story in such unlikely and decidedly non-White House precincts as the local courtroom where the Watergate burglars were being arraigned, a suspect’s home in suburban Rockville, Maryland, a Washington public relations firm, the Republican National Committee, the reading room of the Library of Congress and so on and so on.

In other words, the two used good old fashioned shoe leather to – piece by piece – dig out their story. Something impossible to do had they been locked up in the White House briefing room listening to then-White House press secretary Ron Ziegler.

In the case of the Trump White House, this is a president who quite regularly talks with the press directly as he comes and goes from the White House or while traveling on Air Force One. Certainly, he has had journalists into the Oval Office for chats – as he did with me and two of my American Spectator colleagues in November. Not to mention that he communicates directly with the American people via twitter.

So. Again with respect to all those (ahem, mostly Obama and Clinton) ex-press secretaries? Stephanie Grisham is right.

Once again, as Grisham also noted, this President has re-written the “rules” of politics. Good for him.

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