President Trump likes to be his own spokesman and he has allowed the traditional, on-camera briefing to go the way of the dodo bird. But now, the White House faces an interesting choice as it considers how to replace departing press secretary Sarah Sanders.
The president has been very accessible to the press, taking questions on a consistent and regular basis. He loves the give and take, and he’s right that he’s the only one who can handle reporters the way he likes. That means rough at times, but it also means the press is getting what it needs most from the president – answers to their questions.
So why even bother to hire a new press secretary, especially if the White House doesn’t resume the daily briefing?
Press secretaries play dual roles but make no mistake which is primary: They work for the president, and they serve the press corps. Notice which comes first.
A press secretary’s job is to represent the president. He or she speaks for him, saying what the president would say if the president took questions all day long. A good press secretary is not neutral. He or she is an advocate, an honest advocate for the person who hired them. On occasion, they also need to advocate for the press, fighting for access and the flow of information. Access isn’t an issue given how this president operates.
But given the overt hostility between much of the press and the president, and vice-versa, the role of serving the press corps is more challenging now than it was in any recent White House.
President Trump should hire a new press secretary who believes in him and will fight for him. The press secretary needs to take on the press, while also respecting them (or at least most of them) as he or she engages.
That’s why President Trump should hire a new press secretary who believes in him and will fight for him. The press secretary needs to take on the press, while also respecting them (or at least most of them) as he or she engages. Instead of a truculent style, the president would be well served to have a press secretary who brings a humorous touch to the job.
Next time CNN’s Jim Acosta grandstands in the briefing room, instead of getting angry, the press secretary should wish him well getting his editorial placed on the news that night, and go on to the next questioner.
But even if the president finds a mini-Trump with a sense of humor as his press secretary, I suspect no one will live up to the president’s expectations. Especially if the briefing is live on the air, which means the viewer-in-chief is watching.
That’s another good reason why the briefing should go back to the way it used to be prior to the middle years of the Clinton administration. It should be a regular briefing designed to get the White House message out while responding to reporters’ questions, but it should not be televised. It should be a good old-fashioned briefing, a pen and pad affair that lowers the temperature in that overheated briefing room.
Turning the camera off also means reporters no longer get to play starring roles in the briefing. In my experience, reporters were more polite and civil when they were asking questions with no cameras rolling. Most print reporters, especially, would love to turn the cameras off. They just want answers to their questions. They don’t need the dramatics.
Whoever the president picks, I suspect he or she won’t last long. It’s the nature of the job, especially today. President Clinton had five press secretaries. President George W. Bush had four. President Obama, who had a more friendly press corps to deal with, had three. President Trump, with his taste for combat with the media and his high expectations for how the press should be treated, won’t make it easy. Neither will the press. They’ll take their dislike for the president out on the press secretary.
In good times, it’s a high-pressure job. In today’s amped up atmosphere, it’s almost an impossible one. But still, it’s the best job in Washington and whoever gets named will be one fortunate person. At least for a week or two.