White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said they are "not satisfied" with the White House putting a halt on their daily, on-camera briefings.
In an email to members of the association, Mason said he met with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to discuss the issues of the briefings. The White House has increasingly changed the daily briefings, either not having them on certain days, making them increasingly short, or hosting off-camera briefings, sometimes even not allowing the use of audio from the briefings.
"The WHCA’s position on this issue is clear: we believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials face questions from an independent news media, in keeping with the principles of the First Amendment and the need for transparency at the highest levels of government," Mason wrote.
The White House has long signaled it would consider changing up the daily briefings and has already instituted some changes, such as incorporating "Skype Seats" to get questions from reporters and talk show hosts across the country.
"We’re going to do what we can to communicate our message," Spicer said at Tuesday’s briefing when asked about the frequency of press briefings. "The briefing is one aspect of what we do."
Taking the daily briefing off-camera is not a new idea. Former Press Secretary Mike McCurry, who served under President Bill Clinton, has publicly said he regrets being the first press secretary to put the briefing on camera. Now, he says, every reporter asks the same type of question just so they get the clip of themselves being tough on the press secretary. It all becomes just a show.
“The daily briefing has become less than helpful and I bear responsibility for that because I let it become a televised event. It should not be,” McCurry told POLITICO in November after the election. “It should be embargoed until completion and not carried ‘live’ except in unusual circumstances…like real news happening."
Several print reporters have made similar complaints in the past. Mason said in the email that while off-camera "gaggles" "can play an important role in informing the press and the public," they are "not a substitute for the open back-and-forth between reporters and administration officials that regular televised briefings allow."
The Trump White House briefings have become daily television moments. In the early days of the administration, Spicer’s briefings were attracting higher ratings than daytime soap operas and became regular fodder for skits for comedy shows like "Saturday Night Live." When they occur, they’re often still carried live by the cable networks. During Thursday’s audio-only briefing, CNN aired the entire briefing, putting up a photo of Sanders in place of video with chyrons later noting that the White House "Blocks Public From Viewing Daily Briefing."
"We are not satisfied with the current state-of-play, and we will work hard to change it," Mason wrote. "In the meantime, I have asked that reporters be able to use audio from all gaggles going forward. We will keep you posted as developments occur."