Source Material: The White House and the Press: News Organizations as a Presidential Resource and as a Source of Pressure

Article excerpt

News organizations represent a source of pressure on a president and also serve as an important resource as he seeks to govern. In the 1990s and now in the new century, a president can expect to answer the queries of reporters two or three times a week and to make public addresses and remarks on an average of once a day, six days a week. Such appearances are regularly broadcast nationally on cable television. Gone are the days when presidential remarks were delivered to a select audience and only that audience. Now a president's responses to reporters' questions and his remarks to groups are broadcast live on more than one cable television channel. For a president in the new century, there are no off the record remarks, no statements made on background, and no speeches to a limited audience. The presidency today is on the record and broadcast live to audiences around the world.

Reporters as a White House Presence: Questioning the President

When President Bush came into office, there was in place at the White House a communications operation with nearly 100 reporters at their station ready for the new president to make news. Then and now, television reporters are prepared to broadcast from the north driveway from an area known as "Pebble Beach" where 13 news organizations can go live with their regular and breaking news reports. The Press Room is in operation with radio and wire reporters housed in ten and two booths, respectively, set aside for use for their frequent reports, five booths for individual television network correspondents as well as space for their crews, and assigned space for those working for daily newspapers and news magazines, including photographers. Whereas on a typical day not all of the spaces are occupied, there are others around who sometimes fill those places. On a normal day when there is an event to cover, there are ten to fifteen photographers around the Press Room as well as twenty camera people working as crews for the networks. Thus, the White House staff faces an operation in place over which they have no directional authority, which is poised to cover the president. The approximately one hundred people included among those regularly working at the White House for news organizations expect a president to make news and for the White House staff to provide them on a regular basis with the information they need in order to file their reports and go on the air.

Because news organizations view chronicling the presidency in terms of covering the president himself, their reporters focus their attention on getting the president on the record on a daily basis. In particular, they seek his public responses to their queries in preference to getting his views as spoken by his surrogates. Although reporters do not get to query him every day, they expect to see and hear from him daily and to question him in at least a brief session two or three times a week. The expectations of White House reporters are based on their recent experiences. President Clinton and his immediate predecessors left behind for President Bush a record of meeting fairly frequently with reporters to answer their queries. Whereas the longer press conferences reporters prefer are not as frequent as the shorter question and answer sessions, in recent years news organizations have had significant opportunities to directly query a president. When a new president comes into office, news organizations anticipate the pattern of frequent access will continue.

With the expansion of cable news networks from a lone network, CNN (established in 1981), to the addition of MSNBC (1996) and Fox (1996), the expectations of regular queries from reporters grew during the Clinton years. Not only did reporters expect the president to meet with them on a fairly regular basis in a press conference setting, they anticipated he would take their queries at sessions before and following official presidential sessions with members of Congress, the Cabinet, and visiting foreign and international leaders. …