WASHINGTON — The president of the White House Correspondents’ Association said the apparent end of the daily White House press briefing “sets a terrible precedent.”
President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he told press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “not to bother” with the daily briefing, which has been a longtime tradition in which a White House official answered questions in the briefing room to a group of 50 or so reporters. The last press briefing was held on Dec. 18.
Olivier Knox, chief Washington correspondent for SiriusXM and president of the WHCA, said “this retreat from transparency and accountability sets a terrible precedent. Being able to question the press secretary or other senior government officials publicly helps the news media tell Americans what their most powerful representatives are doing in their name.”
“While other avenues exist to obtain information, the robust, public back and forth we’ve come to expect in the James A. Brady briefing room helps highlight that no one in a healthy republic is above being questioned,” he added.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday, “The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the ‘podium’ much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press. I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway! Most will never cover us fairly & hence, the term, Fake News!”
Trump has been taking questions from reporters, sometimes multiple times per day, and Sanders and Kellyanne Conway have been fielding questions in unscheduled appearances before cameras as they enter and exit the West Wing.
The briefings became a staple on C-SPAN and other outlets during the Clinton administration, when press secretary Mike McCurry allowed cameras to cover, live, the back and forth with reporters. When Trump took office, they even became must-see TV, covered on cable news outlets as then-press secretary Sean Spicer sparred with some reporters.
The frequency of briefings tapered off last year, and Sanders has clashed with some correspondents, including CNN’s Jim Acosta.
But past press secretaries have said that the briefings serve a useful purpose. In an email last month, McCurry said that “since this President is his own press secretary I am not sure anyone wants to go out to do a ‘briefing’ that might be overturned by the next tweet.
“But what we lose is someone standing before the media … the surrogates for the American public … and being asked questions about government policies, the White House and its staff, and whatever else the President is up to,” McCurry wrote. He has suggested that instead of allowing live, televised briefings, it should be embargoed until after it ends.
“That would require reporters to test info in the briefing against other sources,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, there again was no briefing. But Larry Kudlow, top economic adviser to Trump, did a standup interview from the briefing room, and afterward took questions from reporters. Still, it was impromptu — not the daily press briefing of the past.