Ellen Ratner is the White House correspondent and bureau chief for the Talk Radio News service. She is also Washington bureau chief and political editor for Talkers Magazine. In addition, Ratner is a news analyst at the Fox News Channel.More ↓Less ↑
1)Hire someone who is respected by the media as White House press secretary.
My nominee would be Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt. He called the seizure of press phone records unconstitutional and was not afraid of the consequences.
The White House has a responsibility to run the country and to communicate its programs and policies to the American people. The Associated Press is well respected. President Obama needs to pull a Lyndon Johnson and use the weight of his office to get someone who is not a political-type spokesperson but a real communicator who is known to be nonpartisan.
When an elected president gets to the Oval Office, he is a president of all Americans – conservatives, liberals and everyone in the middle.
Jay Carney started as a journalist. He ran the Washington bureau of Time magazine, but he has not taken the time to establish relationships with many of the journalists and, therefore, does not have the respect of many of us.
2) Bring back the gaggle.
For years, Monday through Friday, the White House Press Corps attended the gaggle, an on-the-record (but not recorded for broadcast) early morning question-and-answer session led by the press secretary. After Sept. 11, the attendance was so great that it moved to the briefing room. Dana Perino thought it was the same material as the briefing, so she ended it. This was a big mistake, as smaller press outlets asked questions and the “big foots,” as they are called in the news business, didn’t care because it wasn’t recorded.
3) Call on everyone.
Give the first two rows just one-third of the briefing time, and let the rest of the press room ask the other questions. This will do several things: It will allow the press secretary to take the temperature of the undercurrent of news and will include the various factions that need to be taken into account. It will go a long way toward ending the pack mentality of the press and allow diverse voices and questions. It will also allow a relationship between the presidential spokesperson and reporters who do not have the financial resources to travel.
4) Bring back the social events that allowed free mingling with the press and the administration.
There was a time when there was an annual press picnic and also access to the White House lawn on July 4. It is not so easy to tap reporters’ phone records when there are person-to-person relationships and reporters are real human beings with whom you’ve broken bread.
5) Apologize profusely to the press – and mean it.
Invite the head of AP and James Rosen to one of those “charm offensive” dinners with the president. It is not attractive or believable to members of the White House Press Corps when the administration keeps up the mantra of “national security” and does not say, ” We spied, we lied, and it will not happen again, period.”
6) Be totally honest about how many phone records were seized, whose phone records were collected, who was followed and for how long and anything else done to the press.
Even the Russians had “glasnost” when they transitioned from communism. We are backsliding fast, and it’s embarrassing to show others visiting our country our system of “free press” when it resembles countries that are not democracies.
7) Recognize that there are other media outlets that have a great deal of influence but are not being recognized by the current administration.
George W. Bush had off the records with radio hosts. The Obama administration and Eric Holder in particular did not even consider inviting them to his off-the-record discussions on Justice’s role with the press last week.
President Clinton had off the records, too, with the entire press room. President Obama has gone to the back of Air Force One but has not reached out to the press room or other groups. Many press operations do not agree with off the records, but it does enable full and frank discussions with various members of the press.
It just makes sense and allows a president to get to know newsmakers that have audiences and readers but are not seen and heard on the major networks.
This administration should fix the problems with the press and do it quickly or President Obama’s relationship with those who cover him will suffer more than it has. It would be a shame.
He has the makings of a good president, but his relationship with the press corps is one major hurdle that needs to be addressed soon.