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Breaking Up The White House Press Corps Echo Chamber

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Breaking Up The White House Press Corps Echo Chamber

Breaking Up The White House Press Corps Echo Chamber
March 12
17:16 2020

Before explaining how I would restructure the White House press corps, I should explain why.

Quite a few years ago, I conducted an experiment.  I wanted to see if having reporters assemble for press conferences influenced their final reports.  I thought it might because what was reported over different news outlets seemed … homogenized.

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In the first phase, I had about ten reporters listen to a speech in a traditional press conference setting and then had them file (to me) their reports.  The stories they produced were generally similar.

In the second phase, I had them listen to another speech – but isolated.  They submitted their stories without gaggle gossip.  And lo and behold! The reports were amazingly different.  Different reporters emphasized different parts of the speech as the most important.

This led me to a lifelong belief that reporters reach a consensus when they interact.  This is especially true when they are similar in political philosophy.  They become a unique subculture – and it influences their reporting. It is this group consensus dynamic that has fostered the use of the term “echo chamber.”

For this and other reasons, I would use modern technology to restructure how the White House press corps operates.  And let me say, the current members will not like it one bit.  They see themselves as a powerful exclusive club.  They tend to be a rather arrogant bunch.

Essentially, I would put an end to live White House press briefings in favor of a virtual press conference.  Rather than have all the reporters in the audience, I would connect the briefing room electronically to newsrooms all over the country.

I would use the split-screen technology you see on all those cable television stations.  On one side would be the White House briefing studio.  To the television viewer, it would look much like you see it today – with a podium and the oval White House graphic in the background.  On the other half of the screen would be the reporter asking the question from their newspaper office.

Instead of pointing to a hand-waving shouting reporter, the off-premise reporter would signal a question by pressing a button.  This would trigger a light on a panel built into the podium.  The White House official would then press one of the lighted “buttons” on a touchscreen built into the podium to engage with the reporter – whose image would instantly pop up on the screen for all to see.

While the exact number of remote locations would be limited, it would still allow a greater number of media outlets to participate.  The White House press corps would be composed of journalists from all over the country – not just a clique of reporters

This idea came back to my mind because of the advice associated with the Coronavirus.  It would remove the necessity to gather a crowd in close quarters.  In a sense, such a system would have the news media interviewing White House officials just like the networks interview people from distant locations every day.

There is currently one major obstacle to such a system – President Trump.  As badly as the press treats him, he seems to enjoy the personal confrontation.  He makes himself more available to the White House press corps than any President in history.

His impromptu interviews walking back and forth to his helicopter are now iconic.  It has become so common that the newsies even have semi-permanent press facilities on the White House lawn.  Trump invites gaggles of reporters to sit in on many of his meetings – including with heads-of-state.

As a long-time political consultant – with emphasis on public communication – I do not think Trump’s unprecedented access to the press has served him well.  And you can bet that future presidents will not be so available.

I well understand that at first glance, the idea may seem a bit Orwellian.  But I believe it would improve political journalism and provide a greater variety of more accurate information to the public – instead of the monolithic output of the media echo chamber.

About Author

Larry Horist

Larry Horist

Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at lph@thomasandjoyce.com.

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