No News Is Bad News in the Briefing Room

Washington

The Washington Post and the New York Times aren’t sending reporters to the Trump White House for daily briefings.

Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron explained, “We have to keep in mind our reporters’ health and those of our colleagues at other media outlets,” as he noted that Post reporters were exposed to a symptomatic reporter who later tested negative.

New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet said that possible exposure to the coronavirus and the White House news briefings’ lack of news value drove his decision, the Washington Post reported.

How low the titans of journalism have slumped.

News outlets routinely send reporters into war zones and natural disasters with ugly death tolls. Yet somehow the White House is just too dangerous?

It’s one thing for editors to tell reporters who can work at home to do so and to direct journalists who are at high risk to cede their spots to other colleagues. It’s another thing for major news organizations to engage in — what else can you call it? — a boycott.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies reporters as essential workers whose presence is vital in keeping the public informed.

In effect, Baron and Baquet are arguing: We’re not essential. We don’t need to be there. Our crew can watch it on TV.

Liberal bias surely is a driver, and also can be seen in the debate as to whether cable news should air the ratings-rich briefings. It’s no accident that this debate is percolating as President Donald Trump’s approval ratings have been inching upward.

Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote: “Business as usual simply doesn’t cut it. Minor accommodations, like fact-checking the president’s statements afterward, don’t go nearly far enough to counter the serious damage this man is doing to the public’s well-being.”

And: “Radical change is necessary: The cable networks and other news organizations that are taking the president’s briefings as live feeds should stop doing so.”

In this cloistered news climate, the vaunted public’s right to know is for suckers.

It looks bad when journalists say there is not enough news in the briefings after the White House press corps spent so much time decrying the end of daily briefings in March 2019.

It’s a good thing that the White House Correspondents’ Association canceled its annual dinner in April, because we’d look pretty silly patting ourselves on the back for courageously standing up for the First Amendment. In our bathrobes.

Yes, I am writing this from home. But I’ll be back in the White House for pool duty, and I am up for a coveted briefing room seat — unless I show symptoms.

The White House has to be one of the safest places inside the beltway to work. Someone takes your temperature before you can get through the gate, and again before briefings.

The correspondents’ association has negotiated with the White House to limit how many journalists safely can be in the room; 14 out of 49 seats are spaced for social distancing and rotated among interested outlets. Under this social-distancing regime, reporters cannot stand in the aisles.

Wednesday, there was a kerfuffle when Chanel Rion, a Trump-friendly reporter with One America News Network, broke the new regimen by standing in the aisle for the second day in a row. The correspondents association kicked her out of rotation.

On Twitter, One America News Network staff tried to frame the move as the liberal establishment squashing a conservative voice. It’s a happy conceit that has the network trolling for victimhood after Rion flouted rules that apply to everyone else.

Inconvenient fact: One America News Network was on rotation for a seat.

If the White House wanted Rion in the room, as a One America News Network executive told the Washington Post, the press office should have given her a seat among administration staff on the sideline where she can ask Trump, as she once did, if the term “Chinese food” is racist.

By the way, Trump can grant Rion an interview whenever he wants. No one is standing in the way.

I’m not a fan of Rion’s style, which falls under the heading showboat on a soapbox. That profile is equally unappealing when practiced by left-leaning cable news correspondents who prefer pontificating to asking questions.

But at least Rion wants to be in the room, which is more than I can say for the New York Times and Washington Post.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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Author: Debra J. Saunders

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