There are times when this blog must take on weighty issues. Here we go: White House press-briefing question order.
At yesterday’s briefing, press secretary Jay Carney drew this comment from ABC News reporter Jake Tapper. “It’s annoying.” The alleged annoyance was Carney’s skipping over Tapper and calling on a reporter farther back in the carefully hierarchized briefing room. Tapper and Carney bantered a bit before Carney assured Tapper that he’d get back to him.
The part that made Tapper look like a petulant member of the establishment press was when he asked Carney if he was “going to break with decades of precedent” — by dissing the big-shot reporters like himself on the coveted front row.
Yet there’s a gracious backstory to Tapper’s reaction to Carney’s question-hopping. He’s happy to have Carney move around but suggests that a new routine has simply replaced an old one. From Tapper himself:
I’m all in favor of Jay mixing it up and asking questions from reporters throughout the room. They often have better and smarter questions than I do. What I think a lot of TV reporters are surprised by is Jay’s decision to break with decades of precedent and to create a new policy of avoiding first going to the TV reporters who have been assigned those front-row seats by the White House Correspondents Association.
That’s actually not the case. I go back and forth in order to include some of the 42 other reporters who don’t sit in the front row. Despite that practice, at every briefing every TV correspondent in the front row gets called on.
Radical stuff. It’s shortsighted to posit that Carney is tinkering merely with White House traditions. It goes deeper; he’s messing with evolution. We the people want constancy, predictability and a pecking order for the events in our everyday lives. Once randomness gets introduced, so does stress.
To gauge the impact of his revolution, Carney suggested checking with other TV reporters on this question. That process is underway — no source will be left uncontacted. And perhaps a database-driven review of question selection will be in order.
Then again, maybe not. Tapper: “[G]iven the weighty issues we try to ask about – wars and economic strife and more – who asks what when seems a trifle.”