By Monica Kast
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.
This week’s readings, “Fortress Bush” by Ken Auletta and “Do we need a White House press corps?” by Patrick Sloyan, offer a bleak look at the diminishing role of the press in covering the White House. However, I would argue that the role of the White House press corps is just changing, not going away. I would also go on to argue that this means we don’t need to get rid of the press corps, but that we need more journalists keeping watch on what we are being told by the administration.
From the beginnings of a professional press, we’ve seen huge amounts of changes in how the White House is covered. From the beginning of the semester, where we saw Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt with a tight-knit group of journalists surrounding the president’s desk, to John F. Kennedy going on-air with live press conferences, to present-day, with Donald Trump tweeting out his thoughts and positions, the way journalists work the White House beat has changed dramatically.
After reading “Fortress Bush,” though, I think that only strengthens the need for a press corps. Auletta makes the argument that journalists are no longer pursuing stories that are newsworthy, but instead are pursuing headlines. “[Bush] understands their job is to do a job. And that’s not necessarily to report the news. It’s to get a headline or get a story that will make people pay attention to their magazine, newspaper, or television more,” Auletta reports an adviser to George W. Bush as saying.
To me, this means that more than ever before, we need a strong press corps pursing a story, rather than pursuing a headline.
As President Kennedy did with televised press conferences, we live in an era where it is easy for presidents or administrations to go over the heads of the press. Specifically, I remember this summer when Donald Trump Jr. simply tweeted out screencaptures of his conversations with Russians claiming to have information on Hillary Clinton. Writer Jared Yates Sexton tweeted his own response, which reflects how I have felt at times as a journalist. “I…worked on this story for a year…and…he just…he tweeted it out,” Yates Sexton tweeted.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where things like this happen. However, I don’t think this diminishes the role of the press. I think this calls on the press to be more vigilant and to do more investigating and explaining for their readers. If we only get the information from officials, who is there to fact check is? Who will be there to make sure the administration isn’t lying or covering something up?
In an era where things are communicated directly to the public, I think this calls for a more vigilant press corps. Though the medium through which we get the information is vastly different than it was even 20 years ago, I don’t think this means we no longer need a press corps. I think this means we need more accountability and more reporters, working harder and faster to examine the information we are given from politicians.