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December 4, 2004
A Question, Mr. President

Dan Froomkin what the White House press corps can do to get more time, and more actual answers, from President Bush.

He highlights all the usual points; that Bush has had very few press conferences, that he doesn't answer questions directly, that his press appearances are often scripted and filled with admiring reporters selected by the White House Press Office, etc. As a result, the American people have an unprecedentedly small amount of real information right from our President's mouth.

So what's a press corps to do? For one, White House reporters should become more assertive in demanding that the president make himself available. They should raise the issue every day in the daily briefing with McClellan, instead of only once every few weeks. In fact, they should also bring it up every time they get in earshot of the president. ("Mr. President, why won't you meet with us once a month?") Correspondents are sometimes loath to appear too activist or hectoring. But there is nothing inappropriate about the press demanding accountability from the president of the United States.

And they should ask better questions.

Nieman Watchdog

These are all good ideas, and the rest of his article is also good, but I don't think it goes nearly far enough. As I've argued several times before, the problem here is that it is the White House's option to speak to the press, and they are allowed to provide and rescind press credentials at will. The President can call on whomever he likes in a press conference, and he is allowed to ignore, or even disallow follow-up questions, thus enabling him to evade anything he likes.

Froomkin is certainly right that the press corps itself needs to take a much more aggressive approach to their responsibility and ask hard and simple questions that at the very least will make Bush's evasions obvious to everyone. He should be asked at every opportunity why he doesn't have more press conferences. There is no good reason, so the question itself, repeated enough, would go a long way towards forcing the issue.

In comments to Froomkin's article, Eileen Smith makes many of the same points I've made, in a much more organized and coherent form. She calls it "The Peoples' Bill of Rights for White House Transparency."

1. The White House Correspondents Association shall be the sole credentialing authority for entry to press events and briefings.

2. The president shall appear before the White House press corps for a regularly scheduled monthly conference of no less than two hours.

3. Questions will be asked of the president in an order to be determined by the White House Correspondents Association.

4. No questions will be submitted in advance to White House employees. No suggestions for questions will be communicated from the White House to reporters.

5. No credentialed members of the press will be denied access to any press event except by the decision of the White House Correspondents Association.

6. Members of the White House press shall not accept faxes, phone calls, e-mails or other communications from the political office of the WH, from political campaigns, from the RNC, the DNC, or lobbyists or other politics-based agents, unless the reporter has initiated the contact. Such entities may provide copy of any background material to a WHCA library where it will be available for reporters.

7. There shall be no contact between political advisors to the White House and reporters for the purpose of punishing members of the press for their coverage. If the White House has a complaint, it shall be made in writing by the press secretary and submitted to the White House Correspondents Association, with any remedy or admonishment to be made by the Association to the correspondent in question.


Note for Right #1: This was the way things worked until the end of World War II, when, for some reason, the authority to issue White House press credentials was transferred from the White House Correspondents Association to the White House Press Office, where it still resides. I don't know why they did it, but this is clearly absurd, allowing those being questioned to determine who may ask the questions is simply anti-Democratic.

So, once again, the question must be asked, "Why does America hate freedom?"


Previous Comments

Do you know the application process involved in getting the credentials to question McClellan and the President in briefings/conferences?

I can't seem to find that information published anywhere, even though publication was mandated by the courts in the case Sherrill v. Knight.