Op-Ed: Trump tweet is right about ending press briefings

  • President Trump tweeted it might be better to nix daily White House press briefings.
  • The daily "gaggle' rarely provides good information and is usually a game of "gotcha."
  • Eliminating it in favor of weekly news conferences and direct communications with the people is a better idea.

President Donald Trump seems to have come up with one good idea that was long overdue among his series of tweets Friday morning: Getting rid of the wasteful and often excruciating daily exercise in political class navel gazing known as the "White House Gaggle."

Now before you break the glass and pull the lever on your Censorship/1st Amendment in Danger alarm, consider some of the realities. The daily White House news conference rarely produces any new information. It is mostly a drawn out, at least partially taxpayer funded game of "gotcha" where reporters try to catch the spokesperson in a mistake or contradiction and the spokesperson often tries to similarly embarrass or shame the reporters. This has been true for years prior to the more combative sessions we've seen since President Trump took office and is simply a longstanding embarrassment to our political and journalistic traditions.

Let's start by dealing with the inevitable argument that cancelling the daily briefing will be tantamount to censorship or at least reduced access to our elected leaders. The fact is the daily briefing is the opposite of access; it's a barrier to access and candid exchanges with the president and the cabinet.

They also encourage any given administration to spend a considerable amount of time and energy spinning its message to the media as opposed to communicating directly, for better or for worse, with the American people. All in all, the entire set up is unhealthy and bordering on political class codependency.

So what's a better way to ensure a healthy exchange of information and avoid even the whiff of stonewalling by this or future administrations? President Trump's idea of issuing written statements is a good start.

So would limiting the number of briefings to say, a weekly event, with added exceptions for major news events. Follow up questions could be posted and answered on a White House communications website or emailed to the administration staff. All the public would miss from that kind of arrangement is the spontaneous give-and-take between reporters and official spokespeople, which as mentioned above, is really just a non-productive game of "gotcha."

As for more one-on-one time with journalists, this and every previous presidential administration has reserved the right to pick and choose which news organization to grant such interviews to for decades.

NBC, CNBC's sister network, just scored one of those exclusive interviews of the president from Lester Holt on Thursday and we didn't hear anyone accusing the Trump team of pro-NBC favoritism. That will continue as no news outlet is going to pass up the chance to get such an interview, and even the most insular administration will want to get its message out in that kind of a setting from time to time.

The fear that the administration would stonewall the media isn't allayed by having a staff spokesperson fielding questions instead of the president himself. And if the president himself goes silent, that would become a scandal in and of itself that would grow in intensity over time. We haven't had a problem of sustained silence from the White House since Calvin Coolidge lived there.

Of course the most obvious answer to how we'd all survive without the daily briefing is the increased use of the social media tools that give elected leaders an unprecedented ability to speak directly to the public. We often hear people complain or ridicule President Trump's frequent tweeting. But let's ask ourselves this: Do we really object to the fact that he's tweeting so much, or is it the content of those tweets that are so unpopular?

Love or hate the content, there is no denying that President Trump's tweets provide the people with the kind of unique access to a president's thoughts that we haven't experienced before as a nation.

The Washington Post has recently added to its front page the phrase "Democracy Dies in Darkness." But, in addition to the irony that such a phrase slapped on the front page every day surely adds to America's dark mood, that sentiment lacks the humility that all news media outlets are sorely lacking at this time.

That "darkness" won't increase even the slightest bit if a daily event that produces nothing much more than political obfuscation and media grandstanding goes away. We'll all be fine and probably better informed going forward if that becomes a weekly affair for print and broadcast media while this president and his successors just talk to us directly whenever and however they want.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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