By Hunter Frint
Although writing from slightly different perspectives, both Ken Auletta and Patrick Sloyan argue that the White House press corps has grown weaker and less influential during the Bush and Obama presidencies. Keeping in mind our conversation on Wednesday about how journalism changed during the 1990s, what do you think about the future prospects of the White House press corps. Does the drum fire of criticism from President Trump help or hurt the standing of the press corps? In particular, address the assertion that the press is not a representative of the public interest but simply another special interest group pursuing its own goals.
As of recently, it seems that the future prospects of journalists in general are looking fairly grim. Future prospects of the White House press corps seem to be even worse. I’ve seen this present itself this past year with the new presidential administration, but after reading Kan Auletta and Patrick Sloyan’s articles, I suppose it’s been a topic of interests for several years (maybe even decades). In Auletta’s article, on p. 7, the White House press corps is described as “an interest group that’s not nearly as powerful as it once was.” It seems throughout the past three presidencies that its credibility has dwindled. This can be contributed to several changes in communication methods and perceptions of the media.
In Auletta’s New Yorker article, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff is quoted as saying, “They don’t represent the public anymore than other people do,” in regards to the press. Many presidents have attempted to bypass the press in order to speak directly to the public, and live television broadcasts have opened the gates for this. Mark McKinnon, an unconventional Washington D.C. journalist, said about the Bush administration that “there’s a natural tendency in political communicators to want to be liked by the press…I think this administration rejects that notion.” This is something that seems to be embraced by the current Trump administration, but I’ll touch on that later.
In regards to the assertion that the press is not a representative of the public interest, but it’s own interest group, I believe this is something that could be true. The Auletta article suggests that the check-and-balance function of the White House press corps was no longer in play during the Bush administration as the press had simply began to focus on their “hunger for headlines.” I completely understand that this is a serious issue that is present in the world of journalists. There are most definitely those who are more focused on sensationalism, but I don’t believe that the media is its own interests group. There are too many reporters out there who do their job because they truly believe in the responsibility of the press to inform the public of the truth.
In relation to Obama’s presidency, there were two major obstacles to maintaining the necessity of the White House press corps. Consensus from the Sloyan article is that Obama’s administration lacked the necessary fuel, such as a scandal, to keep the press corps interested. This is also the time that social media, specifically Twitter, bridged the gap of direct communication between the president and the public.
And this newest form of communication has played a key role in how our current president gets his message out to the people. It has been extremely controversial though. Going back to the idea that the Trump Administration mirrors Bush’s in not caring about being liked by the press, this is something that outwardly seems to be true. Trump has declared certain outlets “Fake News” and consistently speaks ill of “the press” in general. But many reporters have described Trump as one of the most accessible presidents to date. Overall, I do believe that Trump’s continual battering of the press has hurt the press corps. It not only takes away their influence, but renders them less relevant in today’s political atmosphere.