Scherer said that at yesterday’s meeting the board went through the briefing room row-by-row, working out what he calls “the domino effect” of moving any one outlet forward. In the end, along with Fox and the AP’s gains, Politico and the American Urban Radio networks lept forward to the third row, while The Washington Times slid back one row to the fourth. The Financial Times got a seat for the first time and a seat was allocated in a rotating capacity for a foreign press pool reporter.
“There was a formal vote at the very end of the meeting, as much as everyone was just agreeing as we went,” Scherer says. “There were three news organizations that had made very good cases for why they should get the front seat. It was a very close decision. Even though it was a tough decision, it wasn’t a contentious process. The decision by the board was by consensus.”
For Scherer, who sits in the fifth row, second seat from the left, the jockeying isn’t only about status—“the television networks want their guy to be in the front row.” Lately, it’s also about getting your questions in. “In recent years it’s become more important because Gibbs tends to go in order in the briefing room, and that was not always the case,” says Scherer. “He will start at the front row, then go to the second row, going across. So the closer you are to the front the more chance you have for an early question, or to have a question. By the time you get to the fifth or sixth row, you’re hoping for time at the end of the briefing.”
Ultimately though, the briefing room is all a lot of show and tell. The chess game beneath the podium does little to change the fact that Gibbs rarely says anything truly newsworthy, and, as Scherer points out, the real action happens behind the curtain, in the less frequently reshuffled White House offices. “A significant amount of reporting doesn’t happen in the briefing room,” says Scherer. “It’s just a structured time to put the White House on record.”
Correction: The original article stated that “CREDO lobbied on behalf of NPR.” We have amended this to read “lobbied in support of NPR” as NPR was not itself involved in the petitions. The piece also stated that NPR had a “lack of advancement” when it in fact moved from the third row to the second row, center, just behind the AP. A typo, “reigns,” also corrected.