The daily brief­ing is a waste of time.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

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 Health­ web­site.

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