David Gregory vs. Human Events in CQ Weekly

CQ Weekly’s Elizabeth Wasserman writes an excellent piece (subscription required) on the changing landscape of the White House briefing room, focusing David Gregory’s recent antics.

We’ve written about Gregory on several occasions at the Right Angle, and Wasserman’s piece, although shield from mass consumption by CQ, is a solid piece of reporting about the impact television cameras have had on the briefings. (Of course, I also like the fact I’m quoted in the article.)

Here’s an excerpt:

It has been more than a month since David Gregory, NBC’s chief White House correspondent, lost his cool with White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan during the non-televised, pre-briefing “gaggle,” where reporters were complaining about the lax information provided about Vice President Dick Cheney’s shooting accident in Texas. The tension boiled over as McClellan kept repeating administration talking points as if they were Gregorian chants. In years past, Gregory’s grilling wouldn’t have merited a blip on the media radar. But in the age of the laptop press critic, a star was born in the blogosphere.

Since then, Gregory’s star has risen. He was profiled last week in the Style section of The Washington Post, which tagged Gregory as “the Sam Donaldson of the Bush years.” In the blogosphere, he’s been championed by the left (for asking tough questions) and vilified on the right (for being rude when asking tough questions). Gregory was given a guest spot on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to apologize. But when he called Don Imus’ broadcast from the president’s road trip to India and giggled as he tried to speak Hindi, Imus cracked, “Are you drunk?” From that point on, half of blog-reading America became convinced that Gregory was looped.

“What you had was a reporter who had inserted himself into a news story for the second occasion in a matter of weeks,” said Robert Bluey, editor of Human Events Online, a conservative publication. Another conservative bought the domain and posted an open letter to NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright.

Wasserman’s interview with former Clinton White House spokesman Mike McCurry is most interesting. It was McCurry who gradually loosened restrictions on the press at the briefings, allowing them to be televised for 5 minutes at first before eventually allowing the whole briefing to be aired on live TV.

McCurry now believes that he should have put limits on those live broadcasts. "It’s become too much a stage for both sides to play out their perceived grievances," he said in an interview. "Once they were on live, reporters were right there, and their editors were in the bureau watching them. It really became a place where there was posturing." During the Monica Lewinsky episode, media outlets started to show the briefings live and even sent two cameras — one to focus on McCurry and one on the reporter posing the question.

In conclusion, Wasserman writes:

The public push for transparency makes it unlikely that the White House briefing room will ever go dark again, or that transcripts will ever again be limited to journalists. Nor should they. But journalists need to understand that removing the editorial filter on the news also removes the filter on the reporting process.

And reporting, just like life, is sometimes a messy mix of human foibles, mistakes in judgment and overheated tempers. Only now, the world is invited into the kitchen for the family fight.

I agree. Working alongside John Gizzi, our political editor at Human Events who attends the briefings, I’ve come to value having him at the White House for the reports he can deliver to readers on his blog, the Gizz-ette.

And a word about transparency: It’s a good thing. Without open government, everyone suffers—not just journalists. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said (and quoted often by my college politics professor Marty Brownstein): “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”