Presidential

Spicer, the new sheriff, shakes up the White House press room. How refreshing

White House press secretary doubles down on inauguration claims, pushes back against media's 'rush to judgment'

 

At his first White House briefing, Trump press secretary Sean Spicer drew nervous tweets from the liberal media for calling on sources outside their comfort zone.  He didn’t start with the usual alphabet: AP, ABC, CBS, NBC. He started with the New York Post, whose representative asked him when Trump would start building that wall he promised on the southern border. 

New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum tweeted within minutes: “Priorities, Day 1: Spicer calls on NY Post, CBN, Univision, Fox News. So far top newspapers & broadcast networks shut out.”

CNN media reporter Brian Stelter was wowed: “He's literally AND symbolically going over the heads of the reporters from the biggest newspapers and TV networks.”

Spicer eventually came around to the front row. But this was a really refreshing start to the Trump press policy.

When I was a White House correspondent for the Christian weekly news magazine World in 2001 and 2002, I knew that those of us back in Row 7 were going to be lucky to get a question in minute 44 of a 45-minute briefing. This is the order the major media expect, even in Republican administrations -- a caste system, where the "prestigious" press outlets hog the spotlight.

When I was a White House correspondent for the Christian weekly news magazine World in 2001 and 2002, I knew that those of us back in Row 7 were going to be lucky to get a question in minute 44 of a 45-minute briefing. This is the order the major media expect, even in Republican administrations -- a caste system, where the "prestigious" press outlets hog the spotlight. 

Instead, Spicer popped all over the room, to the back rows, to the people standing on the sides, and then back to the elite media.

This may not last, but it suggests a different approach.

After the briefing, CNN’s Jake Tapper insisted he was “not griping,” but insisted normally, for “decades,” the Associated Press had the tradition of the first question. This would be the same AP that just quoted disgraced former CBS anchorman Dan Rather as Spicer’s chief critic. 

Tapper said “The Associated Press is an organization a lot of newspapers, news organizations use. It’s considered impartial, down the middle. He did not call on Associated Press first. He did call on them, but he didn’t call on them first, second, third, or fourth. He called on The New York Post – which is, I think it’s fair to say, Donald Trump’s favorite newspaper.” 

Using Tapper’s logic, would it then be odd for Obama to start with The New York Times, which might be Obama’s favorite newspaper? Especially when Tapper’s CNN colleague Jeff Zeleny – then with the Times – asked Obama at the end of his first 100 days what “enchanted” him as president.

Minutes late, CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin questioned former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer with smirking condescension: “Listen, I’m all for bucking tradition and calling on different people. But the fact that Sean chose the New York Post to get the very first question, care to comment on that?” Fleischer acknowledged he and his boss observed the liberal-media tradition, but Trump is “entitled” to make changes. “Nothing is sacrosanct. It’s not written in stone.” 

In my White House briefing days, and today, the liberal majority in the White House press corps think conservative media are going to ask softball questions to Republican press secretaries. But  often – like the New York Post today – they end up pressing Republicans about their campaign promises to Republican voters, something liberal reporters will lobby to stop from happening. 

When I had a spot in the press room all those years ago. I asked Fleischer questions about whether the Bush administration was waffling to the left on issues, and whether they were working effectively with congressional Republicans on confirmations.

Liberal reporters could define those answers from the president’s spokesman as “news” just as much as their own favorite issues or controversies. 

Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center's Director of Media Analysis and co-author (with Brent Bozell) of "Collusion: How the Media Stole the 2012 Election and How to Stop Them From Doing It In 2016."