The daily briefing is a waste of time.
In recent years, former White House press secretaries (Ari Fleischer and Mike McCurry), former White House reporters (Ron Fournier and James Warren) and political partisans (Newt Gingrich and Sean Hannity) have embraced this theory. “They’re a waste of time,” Fournier wrote. “They are redolent with tradition and an air of media entitlement,” Warren commented in Vanity Fair. Reid Cherlin, a former aide to President Barack Obama, called them “a worthless chore for reporters, an embarrassing nuisance to administration staff.”
It is true that the briefings can be boring. Ida Tarbell wrote about those early briefings in 1898, noting that they were conducted by presidential secretary John Addison Porter around a table at 10 p.m. “They gather around Secretary Porter for a kind of family talk, he discussing with them whatever of the events of the day he thinks wise to discuss.” Then and now, no reporter would ever base any story solely on what was said in the briefing.
But it is still vital to a democracy that a representative of the president present himself every day. Everyone benefits when the government has to face that daily ordeal. It was at a White House briefing on April 17, 1973, that press secretary Ron Ziegler was forced to backtrack on months of Watergate evasions and declare his previous statements “inoperative.” It was at White House briefings that press secretaries for George W. Bush had to try to explain why no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. And it was at White House briefings that Jay Carney was forced to explain the problems with the HealthCare.gov website.