President Barack Obama’s former press secretary, Josh Earnest, cautioned against the Trump administration’s move to shorten the daily briefing and hold it off camera.
Earnest, a Kansas City native, said in an interview Tuesday that he hopes the changes made to the daily press briefing by President Donald Trump’s press staff don’t set a precedent.
The briefing gives reporters the opportunity to fire questions at the press secretary or other West Wing staffers. It typically is broadcast live.
At the Trump White House, the briefings have become increasingly short and off camera in recent weeks.
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“There’s value in regularly and routinely having on-camera, on-the-record briefings,” Earnest said. “That’s good for our democracy, it’s good for the White House press corps, it’s good for the public to understand what’s happening there, and it’s good for the White House to have a venue to make their case and to press an argument. And that’s a venue that no one else has.”
The bad news days are the days it’s even more important to be accessible to the media and to hold an on-camera briefing, he said.
“Some of my longest briefings were on days when the news was not good for the Obama administration and part of that was because I wanted to make clear that the White House wasn’t scared to make our case,” Earnest said.
One of the longest briefings he ever held, Earnest noted, was the day after Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Conspicuously dodging opportunities to advocate for and defend the administration publicly undermines the White House’s ability to advocate for and defend the president,” said Earnest.
He said he hopes the press doesn’t abandon the briefing as a pointless exercise as reporters grow more frustrated.
“If this White House or the next White House chooses to recommit to effectively engaging in the daily briefing, I do hope that the press corps will be there to cover it because that is the most effective way for our system of government to work and for people who hold power to be held accountable,” he said. “I hope that any erosion is not permanent.”
Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said at the briefing on Tuesday that the White House is going to do what it thinks is best to communicate its message.
“We have a tremendous respect for the First Amendment — your ability to do your job and report and seek out ideas — and we’re going to work with you,” Spicer told reporters at the briefing, which was held on camera. “I think the briefing is one aspect of what we do. We’re here really early in the morning and really late at night, available to all of your questions, whether it’s email or in person. This is one avenue to do that.”
He said the number of interviews that Trump has given has been significant compared to past administrations.
“I understand you’ll always have issues, you’ll always want more, and that’s fair. I think that’s your right. That’s what a lot of the press is there to advocate for,” Spicer said.