The Trump administration’s goal of expanding press briefings beyond the White House briefing room got underway Wednesday with the debut of four journalists appearing in “Skype seats” — who offered somewhat less combative questions than what press secretary Sean Spicer has experienced in recent days.
Journalists from Rhode Island, Ohio, Oregon and Kentucky appeared on television screens flanking Spicer during his daily briefing, and their questions were interspersed with those asked by reporters in the room.
While the exchanges were largely substantive, the tone was noticeably different.
“Clearly anyone paying attention will see that President Trump is aggressively acting on his campaign promises,” began Jeff Jobe of Kentucky’s Jobe Publishing. “This in itself gives hope to my state and particularly the region in which I grew up, Appalachia.”
He proceeded to ask about the timing of rule changes on coal mining, coal burning and coal exports.
Spicer didn’t provide a specific answer, but he offered this: “I think once we have secretary of energy confirmed that we can continue to take steps to move forward.”
Syndicated radio host Lars Larson, meanwhile, served up a query of Spicer that hadn’t been heard yet in the young administration.
“The federal government is the biggest landlord in America,” noted Larson, who is based in Portland, Ore. “It owns two-thirds of a billion acres of America. I don't think the founders ever envisioned it that way. Does President Trump want to start returning the people's land to the people?”
Larson playfully referred to the White House press secretary as “Commander Spicer,” a reference to his status as a U.S. Navy Reserve commander.
From some of the remote questioners, their participation became news itself.
Kim Kalunian, a reporter with WPRI in Providence, R.I., got the first question via Skype on Wednesday.
By midafternoon, the station’s website carried this headline: “WPRI’s Kalunian poses sanctuary city question during White House Skype”
Spicer also fielded a question from a Cleveland reporter about how Trump intends “to make cities like ours the economic envy of the world.”
Spicer indicated that the White House plans to work in Skype-based questions a few times a week.