The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove tries to declare the death of the White House press corps. And he makes a compelling case:
Until relatively recently, middlemen like [CBS’S Bill] Plante had the upper hand, and the media filter was robust—notwithstanding persistent and clever attempts by various White House communications gurus to bypass the journalistic kibitzing. But these days, as Plante acknowledges, the filter is fraying.
And the MSM’s relevance is up for grabs.
At the very moment that social media and enhanced technology are proliferating and gaining audience share by the tens of millions, giving President Obama powerful interactive tools to communicate directly with the public, the old media are in a world of hurt.
But his case isn’t perfect.
First, it’s not just a coincidence that “the old media” are hurting “at the very moment” that social media and other new technologies are proliferating, is it? Isn’t all that web stuff causing the hurt?
More importantly, while we’ve often heard that filters are fraying, Ye Olde White House press corps probably isn’t the best place to look for an illustration of the phenomenon. Instead, the journalistic pack tasked with covering the president has long held a problematic place in the media galaxy (think The Boys on the Bus). It’s not exactly a court reporter gig. But it is a job where you’ve got to go along to get along, and to get invited back.
It’s hard to tell if Grove—who worked at The Washington Post for 23 years—is actually sad about the impending doom he sees. But he does seem to take a little joy in pointing out how grumpy “the wizened veterans who occupy the coveted reserved seating in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room” are about the changing media landscape.
Those endangered beasts are also eager to defend their “filter” roles.
“In the end, who gets the decent information? The people who rely on trusted filters, whether they’re online or on the air,” Plante replied. “If you do it all yourself, you’re gonna get a load of crap!”
But it’s too bad Grove didn’t get Plante and the gang to explain exactly what kind of filtering goodness they’ve been adding lately. The closest we get is this tidbit from Mark Knoller of CBS Radio:
Knoller, the press corps’ unofficial statistician who has covered the White House beat since George H.W. Bush, said Obama hasn’t held a formal press conference in nine months, since July 22.
Knoller is so known for adding that kind of statistical perspective that The Wall Street Journal devoted an entire page-one piece to him last week. The title tells it all: “Trivial Pursuit: One Man’s Quest to Catalog Presidential Minutiae.”
That doesn’t mean that he isn’t influential.
At the end of the Clinton administration, the White House distributed a report detailing the president’s globe-trotting—then corrected it when Mr. Knoller pointed out some mistakes. When Mr. Knoller noted that Mr. Clinton had visited every state but Nebraska by the end of his tenure, the White House jammed in a trip to Omaha.
Knoller proudly tells Grove that he isn’t entirely anti-Twitter. He’s on Twitter. But when Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tweets, Knoller says he never just retweets. “I rewrite them and I put them in context, because it’s not my job to give him access to all of my followers. I’m not a retweeter, I’m a reporter.”
We’ve noted before that Knoller could do better in the context department. But the White House beat is, no doubt, a tough one. The hours are long, the expectations are high. You’ve got to find fresh angles on the big stories of the day, and play nice with the guys in charge if you want to get some of the few crumbs they drop.
But if Grove—and the White House press corps—want to make a case that something’s really at risk, they need to do a better job in showing off some recent examples of White House reporting we really couldn’t do without.Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.