White House

'Skype seats' provide awkward, but substantive exchanges at White House briefing

Sean Spicer takes questions from "Skype seat" reporters during Wednesday's White House press briefing.

Sean Spicer takes questions from "Skype seat" reporters during Wednesday's White House press briefing.  (AP)

The first question asked by a reporter with a “Skype seat” at Wednesday’s White House press briefing may not go down as legendary: “Can you hear me okay?”

But after Press Secretary Sean Spicer assured her he could, WPRI’s Kimberly Kalunian followed up with a question about sanctuary cities – and the briefing quickly flipped from novelty back to business as usual.

Kalunian, Natalie Herbick from FOX8 in Cleveland, radio host Lars Larson and Jeff Jobe of Kentucky’s Jobe Publishing were chosen as the “inaugural panelists” to try out the cyber seats. The White House hasn’t released a detailed description of how the panelists are chosen, except that anyone applying must live at least 50 miles from Washington, D.C. Kalunian was given the first question at Wednesday’s briefing, following Spicer’s practice of calling on non-traditional outlets at the top of the daily session.

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While the questions were substantive – Herbick asked about economic recovery in Cleveland, Larson asked about land management and Jobe raised the topic of coal – the interactions were far more collegial than some of the tense exchanges seen between Spicer and members of the press corps in the early days of the Trump administration.

Herbick at one point thanked "Secretary Spicer" for the “rare opportunity.” In the briefing room, several of the reporters chuckled at the title typically reserved for Cabinet secretaries, not the press secretary.

“You're coming back!” Spicer said, as the reporter continued with her question. 

Larson addressed Spicer as “Commander Spicer,” a nod to Spicer’s rank in the Navy Reserve.

The panelists were shown on a pair of televisions located behind and on either side of Spicer and were only on screen while asking a question. Otherwise the TV screen showed a White House logo.

Spicer typically turned slightly towards the television screen on his right while the question was being asked but otherwise stared out at the briefing room when answering a question, creating a slightly awkward visual.

The freshness of the technology was also on display in the relaxed reactions of reporters. Early on during the briefing, Spicer called on a reporter who wasn’t in the room.

Someone shot back: “David’s not here – maybe he’s on Skype!” 

Fox News' Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.