Misplaced outrage over who attends a White House press conference
Just under three years after leaving my role as White House press secretary, I returned to the White House’s James Brady briefing room for the coronavirus task force briefing on Friday — this time, on the other side of the podium.
It was an adjustment being on the other side of the room, but I was there to ask the president two questions that were relevant to the topics I was covering that day on my daily show on Newsmax TV. Being able to get a response directly from the president would provide an answer from our country’s leader to viewers worried about their health and their next paycheck or concerned businesses owners on the brink of collapse and laying off employees.
More than 20 questions into what ended up being more than an hour-and-a-half briefing, President Trump called on me. I stood up from the seat assigned to Newsmax in the back row and asked one question regarding whether the relief being planned for small businesses would be timely enough, and then another question regarding reports that members of Congress used private briefing information about the emerging coronavirus threat to sell stocks. The latter was arguably one of the most pressing news stories of the day, while the former addressed a concern held by millions of working Americans that much of the assistance being suggested for small businesses is scheduled to take months — and they have only a few weeks of viability.
Interestingly, neither question came up before I raised them. We had a guest scheduled on our program that evening from the Small Business Administration, and being able have him respond directly to the president’s comments would provide critical insight to the actual capabilities of the SBA to handle the demand for assistance from small businesses around the country.
My questions — unlike politically fueled questions, many of those more like statements, coming from some reporters in the room — were clearly nonpartisan and straightforward, designed to give answers to Americans on two topical issues.
Nevertheless, outrage from some in the media ensued. NBC White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell declared that it was “simply not appropriate” for me to be there. While I disagree, I give her credit for being one of the only reporters to put her name on the record regarding her criticism. Hiding behind anonymity, a columnist at one website wrote that I “shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a White House briefing room again.” Ironically, the same outlet published a story the same day based on my question about stock dumps — the question that no other reporter asked.
One news account of the briefing anonymously quoted not one but three White House correspondents who didn’t refute the validity of my questions and instead weighed in on my presence. One claimed that “Spicer has a long way to go before he has the confidence of the rest of the White House press corps.” To be clear, I wasn’t there to gain the confidence or approval of the press corps. I am not, nor do I aspire to be, a journalist or a reporter — I host a TV news show, that’s it.
Beyond the irony of an entire story being published using the sort of background quotes that most journalists claim to detest, the article showed that some members of the press corps are selective or hypocritical with their outrage over who attends White House briefings.
When I was White House press secretary, I made a point to credential anybody from a bona fide news organization. My idea was not to judge based on some arbitrary or ideological bar but to be as open as possible in order to provide access to the widest group of news outlets — and to provide the public as much information and range as they sought. I credentialed everyone, from documentary film crews and radio hosts to bloggers, columnists, historians, academics and independent journalists. I also enhanced access to the briefings by bringing in local TV and print reporters, as well as radio hosts, using Skype.
What’s most revealing here is that some in the media appear to they think they should be the ones to decide who gets access to the briefing room and where to draw the line. It’s not lost on me that my efforts to increase access are now opposed by some members of the very group — the press corps —that supposedly fights for greater media access.
At a time when America is fighting a worldwide pandemic and lives are at risk, the media’s fixation on my attendance at a press briefing begs the question: What are they really worried about? Whether or not you like me or my political ideology, the same First Amendment that protects the media also gives me — and every other American — the right to express themselves.
Sean M. Spicer is the host of Newsmax TV’s political talk show, “Spicer & Co.” He previously served as the 28th White House press secretary. He can be reached at www.seanspicer.com.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.