Presidential Press Conferences: A Critical Approach

By Carolyn Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
The Press Conference Structure

The heart of press conference analysis is the structure of the questions and answers. Press conferences are not speeches; there is no meaningful introduction, body, and conclusion. The sessions are not formal debates either; there is no prima facie case or complete argument to analyze for evidence and consistency. Most often, there is not even a single topic that can be outlined neatly.

If you force press sessions into traditional methodology -- ignore the questions and treat the answers like mini speeches -- you will miss the essence of the press conference. Criticism ought to capture the natural tension between the two adversaries as they spar in the public, semiinstitutional, quasi-spontaneous format. Only by treating both questions and answers can the critic determine if both parties are accomplishing their goals of persuasion and accountability.

Thus, we begin with analysis of question types instead of analysis of the answers' subject matter. In each case, ask "What kind of response does the question seek?" The critic does not care about the reporter's personal motive. The overall motive is accountability, and questions represent different strategies for holding the president accountable.

Once you can classify questions and evaluate them for accuracy and warrants, you can see the answers more clearly. The questions themselves help determine what options the president has to persuade. His responses are functions of the question strategies used to force him to be accountable.

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