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Thoughts on White House Events

Thoughts on White House Events, from Connie Lawn, White House reporter since 1968

December 23, 2010

This White House runs fairly smoothly, and the staff members are, on the whole, very nice to the media. We tend to have good personal relations. But, many of us in the press corps hope they can find more zip, electricity, and passion in the days ahead. It is a good thing to be organized, but it has its limitations.

I have been fortunate enough to cover the White House since the Lyndon Johnson Administration, in 1968. I guess that makes me senior correspondent, unless I can find someone who has been there longer since that period of time. I have my own news bureau, and have been reporting to thousands of radio stations in the U.S. and around the world in all that time. Now, I have also discovered the great new world of blogging, which is terrific. I have always been a “citizen journalist,” and it is my profession. But, I encourage everyone to get on board with blogging, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever. The more communication, the better!

Unfortunately, we do not all get that chance to communicate at the White House briefings or news conferences. At one point, in the George W. Bush Administration, the President started calling on reporters from a prepared list. There were a few embarrassing times when the reporter was not even present. At some other times, the reporter did not have a question to ask. So far, the Obama Administration has followed the same practice. We can only hope it will change.

In the briefings, reporters are only called on if they have an assigned seat. Sometimes, those of us standing in the corners are recognized, but not always. If we manage to take someone else’s assigned seat, we can usually be called on, but not always. The most elite reporters in the first two or three rows get called on, and can ask an endless stream of questions. Other reporters spend a great deal of time on their computers or blackberries, and lose their competitive edge.

In President Obama’s news conference on the 22nd, the President had a right to gloat – he has had a very good few weeks. And, the questions asked by my six colleagues were excellent. But the answers were very long, and there was no time for the rest of us. In the entire year end news conference, there were no questions asked about Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, or national security. I was prepared to ask about any of these topics, had I been called. My other friends also had a series of excellent questions.

I managed to snag an excellent seat in the second row, and had good eye contact with the President. In the past, I would have been recognized by the President or other official. But that does not work now. There is no longer the loud, exciting chaos of past years. It may be better organized, but much is lost in the transition. In these days of reality t.v. we are not allowed much reality!

If I were the President, or officials of the White House staff, I would probably do the same. It is important to cater to the organizations which can pay thousands to travel with the President (or Secretary of State), and more thousands to cover the White House full time. The rest of us are always on duty, and always filing stories, from various locations.

Some of the less famous reporters also have thousands, or millions, of viewers, listeners, or readers. It may be time to give the new media, independents, and foreigners a chance to have their say too. It would be stimulating for the President, and for the voters.
Keep shouting out those questions! Connie Lawn

(Connie has updated her autobiography about her reporting experience. It is on line, “You Wake Me Each Morning, 2010 Edition”)

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