The White House press corps is fighting mad over their own collective decision not to air press briefings from the White House.
CNN’s Jim Acosta has been among the most vocal critics of the decision—made by him and his peers—not to air on-the-record sessions with the White House communications team.
“When Sean Spicer...comes in, and just says, you can’t record the video or audio from these briefings...that wouldn’t be tolerated at city council meetings,” Acosta said on CNN, of CNN’s choice to, entirely voluntarily, not record video and audio.
“I don’t know why everybody is going along with this,” Acosta also said. That is a great question—to ask of Acosta’s own bosses, not the White House.
Today, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders entered the briefing room, CNN dramatically cut the feed, as if a plug had been pulled:
I might be wrong, but I am pretty sure the White House cannot actually cut the feed from CNN’s camera. Maybe someone turned off the power strip the camera is plugged into, I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that what you’re witnessing here is CNN just voluntarily cutting their own feed, because they agreed to the terms set by the White House, which they are also complaining about, although they could simply not agree to the terms if they actually wanted to, because both sides have to agree to the terms.
The White House press corps—a group including some of the most highly regarded reporters at some of the most esteemed institutions in journalism—is apparently unable to solve the simplest collective action problem the world has devised since Aseop’s council of mice were unable to find a volunteer to bell the cat.
One rule of American journalism is that the higher up the prestige ladder you climb, the less able you are to handle very simple issues with sources. There’s a reason why just about every major newspaper has a fairly strict code against granting anonymity to a source without a very good reason; there’s a reason, too, but a less good one, why those standards are completely ignored by the White House reporters at those papers.
Once, during the Bush administration, the press secretary magically became a “senior administration official” halfway through the briefing, which was reflected in the transcript—but not the Times article quoting his comments. Anonymous officials are quoted “on background” during briefings at which they are photographed by AP photographers; those photos are sent out on the wire, with the officials’ names attached; the names do not appear in stories. This happens because White House reporters let it happen.
Some of the jumped-up hall monitors of Serious Journalism even scolded other reporters for breaking the (unilaterally declared by the White House!) decree that the off-camera status of today’s briefing was off-the-record:
In his follow-up Tweet, Byers (who works for CNN, the place that won’t let their own White House reporter air the briefings) explained the rationale for allowing the White House to set such absurd ground rules:
If we don’t do what they say, they may take away our access to information we are not allowed to use or acknowledge we have.
Next time some dummy gives a speech about how important the White House press corps is to democracy—like, say, at their professional organization’s next gala dinner—just remember that these guys are turning their own cameras off voluntarily, because they don’t want to stop getting emails about all the things they’re not allowed to tell you.