'Whose White House Briefing Room?'

For all the festivities and media hoopla surrounding the re-opening of the jazzed up (and much cleaner) James Brady Briefing Room at the White House, not everyone was happy with their “new digs” — at least not among the regular reporters who cover the place.

After eleven months in nearby briefing rooms as the Brady Room was being renovated and refurbished, my fellow White House correspondents and I returned to the former site of our briefings by Press Secretary Tony Snow and his staff.  We also returned to a set of new guidelines, which veteran radio correspondent Connie Lawn likened to “a Roman coliseum” during the afternoon session.  These rules include strict admonition about reporters cleaning up their work space and assigned seats, abstaining from food or drink at their seats in the briefing room, and taking cigarettes and cigars from outside the entrance to the Brady Room to a spot further away (a clear slight to the network cameramen, almost all of whom have major downtime when not filming Snow or the President and use it to puff away.)

The issue of  “who’s briefing room is this?” flared this afternoon, following some intense questioning of Snow on Iraq and reports that the Maliki government has not met the benchmarks set for it by Congress.  Wendell Golar of Fox News asked Snow what he called “a much less serious question if I may.  With this new briefing room come some new restrictions on our use of it, and they, frankly, are a bit of a problem for the crews and seems to me to enable you to show off this place to tours, but make it much less our briefing room. And I want to ask you why we shouldn’t feel we’ve lost something here with this set that makes you look a lot better?”

“Well, what do you have in mind?”  Snow replied.

But before Golar could spell out his specific complaints, Snow said: “Let me put it this way: If you’ve got a bill of particulars that you’re concerned about, you all know that I’ve gone to bat for you, and will, for matters that you think are important for getting your job done right. So if you’ve got some complaints, send them to me and we’ll work through them. We’ve done this in the past and we’ll do it in the future. I don’t think the public wants to hear us ventilating us about how many vending machines we have, or something like that.”

Golar was not moved.  “I’m not talking about vending machines,” he said, "I’m talking about getting out at 7:00 p.m., I’m talking about leaving the place clean — open between — on weekends, so that tours can see. It’s our briefing room."

On that part, Snow was not buying.  As he put it, "….it’s part of the White House. The White House also has custodial responsibility. But the fact is, we’ll work on these things."

As my colleagues and I left to dare the sudden rain that started, the conclusion was obvious:  we have not heard the last of this, and neither has Tony Snow.