Goodbye to Presidential Press Conferences
(Bloomberg View) -- Bye-bye, presidential news conferences.
At least, it appears that Donald Trump is killing off solo press conferences. He's only done one so far, fewer than any other new president; George W. Bush held the previous record in the television age with only five his first year, while Bill Clinton managed only two in 1998, the single-year low at any point in a presidency.
And no one seems to care, including (as far as I can tell) the news media. People aren't exactly shy about criticizing Trump, so it seems likely that it's just a format that for whatever reason doesn't work anymore for either side. I did see one tweet from a reporter urging him to hold one today. Even if he does, it's pretty clear what the pattern is.
I should make clear: I'm not criticizing Trump for this. He has been accessible to the media, just in other ways, notably through long-form interviews with elite press outlets. He's also made regular use of joint conferences with foreign leaders, a format popularized by George H.W. Bush and used regularly since then. And I haven't seen any counts, but his interviews with television reporters seem reasonably frequent to me.
The truth is that when the broadcast networks lost interest in carrying solo press conferences in prime time, the format lost most of its utility for presidents. Ronald Reagan had 31 such prime-time events; Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined for only 11.
Trump, of course, is notoriously capricious, and one never knows when he'll just be in the mood for a press conference. But it wouldn't surprise me if he never does another one. And as long as he uses other formats to achieve the same openness, I don't see any point in complaining. The presidential press conference worked because it was in the interests of both sides. It apparently no longer is.
Many of us old enough to remember the days when TV meant three broadcast networks and PBS and little else will miss the format. There was something nicely democratic about the confrontation between the chief executive and the watchdogs of the media. It fit the nation as it was at the time. And, for a while, it was a reasonable proxy for how willing the president was to take questions, with some (Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan) far less available than others. We'll need other counts of different types of formats going forward.
1. John Sides at the Monkey Cage on white identity and Trump support.
2. Also at the Monkey Cage, David Lewis on the effects of filling the executive branch slowly. Since this ran Thursday morning, the Senate confirmed quite a few nominees before leaving for its August recess.
3. Keith Whittington on "high Crimes and Misdemeanors."
4. Jeff Greenfield on "cosmopolitan" as an insult.
5. And Jennifer Bendery questions whether the Senate Republican whip is any good at his job.
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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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