The last official White House briefing hosted by a press secretary occurred on March 11 of last year, under Grisham’s predecessor, Sarah Sanders. As The Post’s Margaret Sullivan has argued, Grisham’s absence from the podium means she doesn’t really deserve her main title. She took on the job of White House press secretary as well as communications director while retaining her former job as communications director for first lady Melania Trump.
A bipartisan group of 13 former government officials — many of them White House press secretaries — signed a recent letter urging the return of press briefings. “Regular briefings also force a certain discipline on government decision-making. Knowing there are briefings scheduled is a powerful incentive for administration officials to complete a policy process on time. Put another way, no presidents want their briefers to say, day after day, we haven’t figured that one out yet,” noted the authors.
That point — and the others in the letter — should not need to be asserted. The merits of open and free-flowing White House press briefings are a no-brainer. Only in such dark times would a group of former public servants have to assemble to state the obvious.
More enlightening is Grisham’s absurd response to the criticism about the press-briefing outage, which has now lasted more than 300 days.
I think the notion that policy would be done based on the fact that press briefings were held is quite silly. I also think that in this day and age, with a president who has — so unorthodox in politics and has really rewritten the rules of politics. He talks to the American people via Twitter every single day and he talks to the press constantly during the week, constantly. Press briefings should be in the absence of the president and the president is just not absent. And I would say to those former press secretaries — White House press secretaries — they know this to be true: This president has probably spoken directly to the press more than all their bosses combined.
As this blog has noted repeatedly, Trump has indeed done a towering number of media availabilities, whether they occur in the Oval Office, on his way to Marine One, after some ceremonial event, wherever. The guy takes questions all the time.
A level-headed president who took questions all the time from the media could well obviate the need for official White House press briefings. Such is clearly not the case with an unhinged, mendacious and ill-tempered president. His statements at media availabilities, on Twitter and during Fox News interviews, in fact, trigger an even greater need for press briefings. Someone needs to sort out all the nonsense, after all.
An example arose over the weekend, after Trump’s explanation to Fox News host Laura Ingraham regarding the fatal attack against Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. “I can reveal I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” said Trump in regard to the threat posed by Soleimani. That quote touched off a scramble among news organizations to determine whether there was any intelligence that squared with Trump’s apparent belief. There wasn’t much at all, as it turns out.
Were Grisham to have held a press briefing on Monday, she would have been taking multiple questions on that matter alone. She would have failed. And that’s why she doesn’t hold press briefings.