press conference, and in each and every question and answer. The roles are not contrary to one another; rather, they exist as parts of the whole -- the inherent tension between the president and the press. Presidential leadership through persuasion and press accountability through constant questioning and probing are a part of the same universe.
Public persuasion is a principle task for any president and, in the modern world of instantaneous communications, an increasingly important function of presidential leadership. Mediation of the president's message by the press is an integral part of the president's efforts to persuade. One of the ways in which the press mediates presidential messages is through direct question-and-answer sessions with the president, and the reporting and interpretation of those sessions. These press conferences differ from all other communication formats because they are semi-institutionalized, quasi-spontaneous, and inherently adversarial. Learning to criticize press conferences depends partially on the realization that the press conference legitimately encompasses the conflicting goals of presidential leadership and press accountability. The tension between the two is a natural tension, and our criticism ought to reflect the tension, not suppress it. In the next three chapters, as we develop methods for press conference criticism, we will consider both the role of the press and the role of the president.