The Weekly Standard says this about the press briefings conducted by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “It’s just a show.”
Well, yeah, it is a show: Television personalities are constantly jockeying for position, hoping to trip up Carney and make the nightly news.
That’s not the sort of show that the Weekly Standard was alleging, however. The magazine cites a report from a local CBS reporter in Arizona alleging that Carney receives questions from reporters in advance of the press briefings, and reporters, in turn, receive answers in advance. So the press briefings are one big charade. And it took a reporter from outside the Beltway to expose this corrupt coziness!
Here’s the transcript of the key claim made by reporter Catherine Anaya, who had traveled to Washington to interview President Obama:
“And then [Carney] also mentioned that a lot of times, unless it’s something breaking, the questions that the reporters actually ask — the correspondents — they are provided to him in advance. So then he knows what he’s going to be answering and sometimes those correspondents and reporters also have those answers printed in front of them, because of course it helps when they’re producing their reports for later on. So that was very interesting.”
Except that Carney is denying the whole thing:
.@RalstonReports Briefings would be a lot easier if this were true! Rest assured, it is not.
— Jay Carney (EOP) (@PressSec) March 20, 2014
A couple of reporters familiar with the rituals told the Erik Wemple Blog the same story — that there was no merit to the Arizona allegations.
But that’s not sturdy enough. Let’s get a more official perspective, from Caren Bohan, a former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and a current Reuters editor overseeing White House and congressional coverage. When asked about the allegation that reporters provide questions to the White House in advance of press briefings, Bohan replied, “I certainly never provided the White House with a heads-up on questions I was going to ask and certainly don’t know of any reporters that did.” Now: That’s not to say that reporters don’t, for example, e-mail questions to White House officials in the hours before a press briefing. Reporters are always competing for information, and if they can get an answer before a briefing, they can write a post and break some news. “From the time the Reuters reporter on our team arrives at the White House, he or she is e-mailing the White House with questions on one topic or another, but it’s not aimed at giving anybody a heads up at a briefing. It’s aimed at getting answers.” If someone comes up with an answer before a press briefing, says Bohan, the face time with Carney can provide follow-up opportunities.
And what of this notion of reporters getting answers before the briefings? “I’m definitely not aware of anything like that,” says Bohan. “The notion that there’s some kind of collusion going on when White House reporters are asking questions of the press secretary is not at all accurate.”
To swallow the allegation that this is all orchestrated, we’d have to believe that Carney is play-acting when he grimaces at prickly questions from Ed Henry, Jonathan Karl and the rest of the crowd. If so, he’ll have plenty of post-Obama career opportunities.