On one side of the podium stood the leader of the free world. On the other side, the presumably elite representatives of the world’s freest press, with a world of facts at their fingertips.
And between them, as always, a host of crises, controversies, misstatements and mistakes were demanding their rightful place in democracy’s spotlight — right now! This was, after all, the latest exercise of that infrequent democratic institution known as the presidential press conference. ‘Twas the Friday before Christmas, and all through the press room that Richard Nixon built atop of what once was the pool where JFK used to swim famously al fresco, a roomful of journalists was interrogating President Barack Obama with all the intensity and incisiveness that has made the White House press corps what it is today.
“... has this been the worst year of your presidency?” “... what do you think has been your biggest mistake?” “If I may just quickly, on a more personal note, what is your New Year’s resolution?” For when it comes to pithy parody and satire, television’s late night comedy writers can’t match the comedic touch and timing of the Obama era presidential press conference. But wait — that non-zinger about the president’s New Year’s resolution could have potential for us all. Usually, there’s nothing as tree-wasting as yet another list of New Year’s resolutions. But this might be a bad idea that’s time has come.
We have been witnessing the decline and fall of the presidential press conference as an institution of democracy and governance. And as one who covered presidents and their presidencies in years past, I know that our professionalism runs in cycles, much like that of the politicians we cover. And now we journalists are failing in our mission of seeking to put a president on the record about just what is happening and why it is happening.