There has been a noticeable shift over the past couple of years in how President Donald Trump and his administration interact with the media, and while those changes have resulted in White House reporters gaining unprecedented access to the president, they nevertheless are still complaining about the manner in which they have been granted those near-daily opportunities to engage the commander in chief.
The routine daily press briefings inside the White House that occurred under Trump’s original press secretary Sean Spicer became less frequent under his successor, Sarah Sanders, and they have essentially disappeared since her replacement, Stephanie Grisham, took the helm. In place of those daily press conferences in the briefing room are exchanges that have become known as “helicopter pressers” or “chopper talk,” in which, to the growing dismay of reporters, President Trump stops and speaks to journalists before departing or after arriving on Marine One or Air Force One.
Journalists vent about impromptu briefings
Politico published a report on the increasing prevalence of Trump’s impromptu press conferences with Marine One’s roaring engines and spinning blades as the backdrop, but the outlet’s piece mainly served as a vehicle for White House reporters and Trump-haters to gripe about their dislike for the new routine.
The media’s problems with the “chopper talk” sessions, as late-night comedian Stephen Colbert has dubbed them, essentially boil down to the fact that the helicopter’s noise tends to drown out the reporters’ questions, making it easier for Trump to pick and choose which questions to answer and which ones to ignore.
Similarly, the noise and chaos prevent reporters from asking “substantive,” multi-part questions or probing follow-ups. Many have also complained about having to deal with the summer heat, gusts of wind, rain storms and chilly temperatures they are accustomed to avoiding by sitting in the climate-controlled setting of the briefing room.
In actuality, the reporters are peeved that they are no longer seen on camera during these impromptu press conferences, something which prevents them from grandstanding or engaging in heated dialogue designed to generate a viral “gotcha” moment. Instead, Trump is infuriatingly — to them — the sole center of attention and is able to fully control the parameters of the engagement by coming and going when he pleases and answering or ignoring questions at his discretion.
“President Trump communicates directly with the American people more than any President in history,” Grisham told Politico. “The fact that the White House press corps can no longer grandstand on TV is of no concern to us.”
Unprecedented access, yet complaints persist
One would think that White House reporters would be pleased with the near-daily access they now have to the president, who has engaged with reporters an unprecedented number of times — and while a few have gratefully acknowledged that, most others are still complaining.
According to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, an actual journalist who keeps detailed records on the presidency no matter who is in office, Trump has stopped to speak with reporters while coming or going at least 80 times since taking office, far more than the mere three occasions over eight years on which former President Barack Obama did so.
“They are actually a perfect encapsulation of him: quick-hit questions, quick-hit answers, lots of give and take,” an anonymous White House reporter said of the outdoor pressers. “But they are terrible for reporters. It is impossible to hear, have a substantive dialogue, ask a follow-up question or do any serious pressing of the president. It is a f*****g circus.”
“There’s no question that it works to his advantage that we look unruly and disorderly,” Trump-hating New York Times reporter Peter Baker said. “It’s not like standing at a podium in the East Room or the briefing room, where you can have a civilized calling on people who raise their hands.”
The White House press pool enjoys more access to the president than they ever have enjoyed before, but because it comes on Trump’s terms and not their own, they ungratefully whine like the entitled, spoiled children they have so embarrassingly proven themselves to be.