Surprisingly, the answer is yes
By William S. Bike
With news bombarding both the public and reporters from more sources than ever, do press briefings by the president’s press secretary matter anymore? President Donald Trump didn’t think they did, so he pretty much eliminated them. President Joe Biden is old school, so he reinstated them. Which also has reinstated the sight of press secretaries dancing around reporters’ questions, or outright ignoring them.
While it’s true that the president’s press secretary will not always answer all questions, she or he does answer some, so press briefings give reporters some access and information that they may not otherwise have. There’s also always the possibility of a question eliciting a surprise answer or response; President Gerald Ford’s press secretary Jerald terHorst resigned rather than face the wrath of the media after Ford’s surprise pardon of Richard Nixon.
Such briefings also serve to alert the media and public to what issues the White House considers important, which may not be the issues the media thinks is important. Sometimes the briefings reveal a White House not as prepared as it should be or a White House whose focus is misguided, such as in the late 1990s when reporters wanted to ask about Monica Lewinsky and the White House wanted to talk about foreign policy, or throughout Watergate when that’s all reporters wanted to ask about when the Nixon Administration didn’t want to talk about it at all.
Some information, which is what the Biden Administration is providing at these briefings, is better than no information, which is what happened during the Trump Administration when it quit doing them. The briefings also serve to show the White House what the media is thinking, and serve to show the media what the White House is thinking. The Trump Administration cutting off these briefings eliminated that vital two-way information highway.
The Biden Administration restoring and continuing the briefings also show that the White House values communicating with the media in an era in which many government officials no longer feel they have a responsibility to do so. During COVID, daily briefings from state governors were crucial for both the media and for public health. It’s a dangerous message to send to state officials to think they have carte blanche not to provide such information, and that’s the message that the Trump Administration cutting off the briefings provided. Democracy is in peril in the 21st century, and cancelling the briefings would be another erosion of democracy, as being able to hold public officials accountable is a key aspect of it.
So the briefings are still valuable even if they do not reveal new information presented in a scintillating manner every day. Next question?
William S. Bike, author of the book Winning Political Campaigns, a how-to book for all aspects of political campaigning, is a frequent political commentator. For more information, log on to www.centralparkcommunications.com.