Presidential Press Conferences: A Critical Approach

By Carolyn Smith | Go to book overview

than ever before. Therefore, it can provide that kind of evidence more reliably.


CONCLUSION

Next time you watch or listen to a presidential press conference, or read a transcript of one in the next day's newspaper, try your hand at figuring out what types of responses the questions seek. If you can begin to classify questions according to motivational type, you can do some enlightened analysis of your own.

Ultimately, the act of criticism is a creative act. The critic must set up a press conference structure and offer guidelines for criticism. But finally, the critic must sit down and do criticism to understand how the structure and guidelines might help in the creative interaction with the internal dynamics of the press conference.

Edwin Black concluded his landmark study, Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method: "We have not evolved any system of rhetorical criticism, but only, at best, an orientation to it. An orientation, together with taste and intelligence, is all that the critic needs."17

That's the approach I have adopted in suggesting methods for presidential press conference criticism. The press conference is a unique rhetorical situation for both the president and reporters. It is a semiinstitutionalized, quasi-spontaneous, inherently adversarial encounter between the president and working members of the press.

It is the unique nature of the press conference that suggests the method of criticism. The structure is such that both questions and answers are important to analysis. With this orientation, we can determine the agenda, classify the questions, create standards for good questions and answers, and offer a series of guidelines for assessing effects.

It is hoped that this study will provide an orientation that, when combined with taste and intelligence, will result in fruitful criticism. The most likely reform to occur in presidential press conferences is the demand from the audience that our press representatives ask high-quality questions and that our presidents reply in kind.

An approach to press conference criticism is not complete without examples of how the approach might work. The next three chapters offer sample criticism based on the principles developed thus far.


NOTES
1
"Presidential News Conference: Rep. Robinson Jumps to GOP, Meets with Bush, Media", Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 47, no. 31 ( August 5, 1989): 2068.
2
Ibid.

-123-

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