The press has complained for years that the White House Briefing Room is too small, with just under 50 seats. So why would they complain that soon-to-be President Trump wants to expand the space? Of course, that would mean moving it out of the White House.
According to multiple senior transition officials, this is being seriously considered. Esquire Magazine broke a story Saturday citing three sources, including Trump’s pick for press secretary, Sean Spicer.
“There has been no decision,” Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, said about the plan today. But Spicer acknowledged that “there has been some discussion about how to do it.”
This would be a fair move for Trump, whose relations with the main stream media have been, shall we say, oppositional. Perhaps the best way to neutralize the press’ natural hostility is to dilute them to death. Removing just one media outlet tends to get them to stick together, as President Obama learned. But removing them all is nothing but fair.
Spicer cast the possible relocation of the press corps as a matter, in part, of logistics. “There’s been so much interest in covering a President Donald Trump,” he said. “A question is: Is a room that has forty-nine seats adequate? When we had that press conference the other day, we had thousands of requests, and we capped it at four hundred. Is there an opportunity to potentially allow more members of the media to be part of this? That’s something we’re discussing.”
One senior source was quoted saying “They are the opposition party.” Fighting words. “I want ’em out of the building. We are taking back the press room.”
The press room has been a fixture in the White House since Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. In those days, when stories had to be filed for publication, it was convenient to have the press close at hand. Since then, it’s been rather a badge of honor for White House correspondents to enjoy access to the power center of the world. From their intoxicating perspective, they get to work in the West Wing–the Executive Office Building. It’s almost like they’re part of the government (and many of them went back and forth during Obama’s term).
In 2006, President George W. Bush evicted all the press from the White House…but only to renovate the decrepit press room. The media accused him of doing it to keep them away. During the final press conference Bush foreshadowed Trump.
Sam Donaldson, a fixture of the press corps when he was the White House correspondent for ABC News, shouted out a question from the back of the crowded room, asking Mr. Bush whether the actor Mel Gibson, who recently made disparaging remarks about Jews, should be forgiven. “You’re a has-been!” Mr. Bush shouted back. “We don’t have to answer has-been’s questions!”
Bush was just playing. Trump wasn’t. Bush renovated the briefing room, and the press moved right back in after a few months. Trump may evict them permanently, holding his press briefings across the street at the Old Executive Office Building.
“I know some of the folks in the press are uptight about this and I understand,” [incoming Chief of Staff Reince] Priebus said on “This Week.” “The only thing that’s been discussed is whether or not the initial press conferences are going to be in that small press room. For the people listening to this that don’t know this, the press room that people see on TV is very, very tiny — 49 people fit in that press room.”
“We had like 500 or 600 folks at the press conference last week so we started thinking, ‘Man alive, if we can have more people involved than less people involved, that would be a good thing’ — that’s what this is about, George,” Priebus said.
Trump promised things would be different during his term. I don’t think he’s bluffing about evicting the press. It would be just like him to do it.
Other than to their pride, the main stream media would suffer no real pain from the move, despite protestations from the White House Correspondents Association. After all, there’s never been much difficulty in finding news to cover about ego-obssessed Trump. But in Trump’s media-centered world, we might see Breitbart, Esquire, and Vanity Fair sitting alongside The New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN.
Maybe they’ll even have room for the National Enquirer.