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Democracy Wins As White House Press Briefings To Return In Biden Administration

November 16, 2020

It strikes me, again, how far from the norms we are in the nation when there is a delight that White House press briefings will again occur when the next president is sworn into office. The absence of a current press secretary fielding questions in the press room has long been a concern for the nation. The needs of the citizenry to know what their president is thinking and doing in relation to a wide range of issues must never be undermined.

Therefore, readers will not be surprised to learn that a smile spread over my face upon reading that a senior Joe Biden transition official confirmed the president-elect plans to bring back the daily press briefing. My interest in the workings of the press office and what it means to the national discourse is decades old. If I could have one job in the White House it would be as a press secretary. I noted the charm of the office the first day President Obama was in the Oval Office.

Our national government allows reporters to be very close to the seat of power.  Closer than any other leader provides for reporters in any other country around the globe.  The White House press room is located just steps from the office of the press secretary. The relationship between White House reporters and the leader of our nation, regardless of political party or decade, is often tense and difficult.  As it should be.  As it needs to be.

To provide our democracy with the information, insight, and analysis needed for citizens to be able to evaluate the direction of the nation a robust press corps needs to probe and question all our leaders.  That often makes every White House uncomfortable.  That is one price of attaining power that each president must deal with.  The fact that reporters unearth and report on issues that otherwise would never come to light such as the Pentagon Papers in the 1970’s, or the eavesdropping story during President Bush’s term, or the attempted undermining of a political opponent through the use of a foreign country by Donald Trump underscores the need for an energized press as they report and help secure the foundations of our nation.  The press in our nation is as much a part of why we are free today as the soldiers in uniform.  Many citizens often forget that fact.

On my bookshelves that line this office are ones written by Jody Powell, Ron Nessen, and Marlin Fitzwater–all having served as White House Press Secretaries.  I fully understand that most folks do not have these books in their homes, have probably never read them, and I would bet my entire Elvis album collection do not recognize those names.  But mention Sean Spicer and the image of a Saturday Night Live skit comes instantly to mind as well as a number of purely painful episodes of real-life from the press room at the White House.

We must do far better at making that press room the place where our nation understands information is gathered so the public better grasps the workings of government.

When a president gets all prickly about the press it means reporters are doing the work of the nation. We need to be reminded that when the flare-ups between the people who wield power, and those who report on them seem most tense, we are actually witnessing the strength of our nation.  Think of the many nations where a free working press cannot exist anywhere in that country, let alone in the same building where the leader works and lives.  To pepper our president with tough questions, or demand accountability from the government, is the very task that these reporters should do on a daily basis.   At times these actions irritate some in the country, but history shows that we are better served as truly informed citizens. 

That can only happen with intrepid reporters on the beat. 

Especially at the White House.

And even more so in the press room with a press secretary at the podium!

And so it goes.

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