White House re­porters need to quit whin­ing and man up

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY JOSEPH CURL Joseph Curl has cov­ered pol­i­tics for 25 years, in­clud­ing 12 years as White House cor­re­spon­dent at The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twit­ter via @josephcurl.

There was a time when White House re­porters did their work and didn’t cry like lit­tle ba­bies. The men were men and the women were not to be tan­gled with (He­len Thomas in her prime).

But those days are gone. Long gone. The ef­fete David Gre­gory (re­mem­ber him?) made his ca­reer at NBC by beat­ing up a White House spokesman ev­ery day in front of the cam­eras dur­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Ge­orge W. Bush. Mr. Gre­gory would grand­stand and pea­cock and ask in­ter­minably long ques­tions (more cam­era time, folks!), be­rat­ing White House spokesman Scott McClel­lan, who was kept on a short leash by the com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor at the time, Dan Bartlett. Mr. Gre­gory would ask five, six, some­times 10 ques­tions in the daily brief­ings, of­ten de­mand­ing that the White House “tell the Amer­i­can peo­ple why ... ”

Of course, Mr. Gre­gory quickly crashed and burned when the rat­ings for “Meet The Press,” which he briefly hosted, went into the toi­let af­ter he took over. He was fired and wan­dered off into the wilder­ness.

Skip ahead to 2017. In­side the White House now: the most me­dia-savvy pres­i­dent in his­tory, Don­ald Trump. Also there: Jim Acosta, a re­porter for the third-place cable news net­work, CNN. Cue fire­works.

As he does, Mr. Trump sized up Mr. Acosta in min­utes. In May 2016, then-can­di­date Mr. Trump in­ter­rupted a pea­cock­ing Mr. Acosta and said, “Ex­cuse me, ex­cuse me, I’ve watched you on TV. You’re a real beauty.”

At a press con­fer­ence this past Fe­bru­ary, Mr. Trump cut off Mr. Acosta af­ter he’d asked sev­eral ques­tions. TRUMP: Sit down. Sit down. We’ll get it. ACOSTA: Just be­cause the at­tack of fake news and at­tack­ing our net­work, I just want to ask you, sir —

TRUMP: I’m chang­ing it from fake news, though.

ACOSTA: Doesn’t that un­der­mine — TRUMP: Very fake news.

ACOSTA: But aren’t you —

TRUMP: Go ahead.

ACOSTA: Real news, Mr. Pres­i­dent.

So it should come as no sur­prise that Mr. Acosta is once again cry­ing like a baby who needs his nappy changed. Af­ter the White House on Mon­day an­nounced that it would hold its daily brief­ing off cam­era — which TV pea­cock­ers hate be­cause they can’t grand­stand for air time — Mr. Acosta went off on Twit­ter.

“At off cam­era no au­dio brief­ing, Spicer took a ques­tion from a Rus­sian re­porter but not from CNN. #pravda,” he tweeted, fol­lowed by sev­eral more.

“There is a sup­pres­sion of in­for­ma­tion go­ing on at this WH that would not be tol­er­ated at a city coun­cil mtg or press conf with a state gov.”

And: “Call me old fash­ioned but I think the White House of the United States of Amer­ica should have the back­bone to an­swer ques­tions on cam­era.”

And: “Make no mis­take about what we are all wit­ness­ing. This is a WH that is stonewalling the news me­dia. Hid­ing be­hind no cam­era/no au­dio gag­gles.”

Now, just to set the record straight (and I’ve cov­ered four pres­i­dents), the White House — all the way back to the early 1990s — some­times holds brief­ings off cam­era. Top aides for Bush told me they did so to nip the gotcha’ jour­nal­ism that was be­com­ing more pop­u­lar among the main­stream me­dia.

But any­one fol­low­ing Mr. Acosta’s com­plain­ing should know this: The White House is still on the record dur­ing the off-cam­era brief­ings. Re­porters can still ask tough ques­tions and hold the ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­count­able. They just won’t have any ex­plo­sive tape where they be­rate the press secretary and de­mand that he “tell the Amer­i­can peo­ple why ... ”

They don’t get self-ag­gran­diz­ing video, but they can do their jobs — if they want to.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer did add to the fray, re­fus­ing to call on Mr. Acosta dur­ing Mon­day’s brief­ing. When asked by Time re­porter Zeke Miller why “our friends in ra­dio and tele­vi­sion can’t use this live,” Mr. Spicer said “There are days where we de­cide that the pres­i­dent’s voice should be the one who speaks for the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” not­ing that Mr. Trump had made com­ments at a photo op and would make more at a meeting later in the day.

“As Spicer walked away, Mr. Acosta shouted: ‘It’s off-cam­era and you can’t an­swer ques­tions?’ ” Mr. Acosta whined, ac­cord­ing to The Hill.

“The White House press secretary is get­ting to a point where he’s just kind of use­less,” Mr. Acosta said af­ter the brief­ing. “If they’re get­ting to this point where he’s not go­ing to an­swer ques­tions or go on cam­era or have au­dio, why are we even hav­ing these brief­ings or gag­gles in the first place?”

Awwww, poor baby. Now Mr. Acosta can’t make his ca­reer by be­rat­ing a White House spokesman on cam­era — like Mr. Gre­gory did? What a shame.

Or maybe lit­tle Jimmy just needs a nap. Or a baba. Or his binky.

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