Some reporters are complaining that President Trump’s recent "gaggles" on the White House lawn — as Marine One’s helicopter rotors blare in the background — make it more difficult for them to hold the president accountable and paints them in an unprofessional light, according to a report.
“If he was at a podium, we would be pressing him after he answers the question, we would be correcting him, we would be pointing out discrepancies in previous answers, and we’re not able to do that in the chaotic setting of a departure,” CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang told Politico. “Many times I’ve tried to ask a follow-up question, but he’s already pointed to somebody else.
“Many times I’ve tried to ask a follow-up question, but he’s already pointed to somebody else."
— Weijia Jiang, CBS News
“He’ll just hear a word that catches his attention like ‘racism’ or ‘the Squad’ or whatever the topic is, and he’ll just deliver what he’s probably already been tweeting about and what he already firmly believes so that can be difficult,” Jiang said.
But others say the brief, near-daily news conferences, dubbed “chopper talks” by late-night host Stephen Colbert, make the president more accessible than his predecessors who delegated the role of talking to reporters to their White House press secretaries during far-less frequent on-camera West Wing briefings.
“President Trump communicates directly with the American people more than any president in history,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Politico, when asked about Trump’s interactions with the media. “The fact that the White House press corps can no longer grandstand on TV is of no concern to us.”
“President Trump communicates directly with the American people more than any president in history. The fact that the White House press corps can no longer grandstand on TV is of no concern to us.”
— Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary
Grisham said she does not “know what any of the press could complain about” given they have nearl-daily access to the president when he stops to take their questions on the White House lawn.
Trump's “chopper talks” can last as briefly as a few minutes to as long as about a half-hour. The president scans a crowd of reporters, calling on some while ignoring others, and shouts answers over the noise — the wind often whipping his tie over the shoulder — before he then walks off all while the cameras are rolling.
According to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who keeps detailed records of the presidency, Trump has stopped to answer reporter questions — both departing or arriving to the White House on Marine One and on the tarmac before or after riding Airforce One — more than 80 times. He said he found only three instances when former President Barack Obama similarly spoke to reporters in transit and, during such times, he used a podium.
While several reporters interviewed by Politico said they appreciated the frequent access, they believed the set-up on the lawn purposefully depicts media as unruly, unkempt and professional. Jiang described how she often has to do “a lot of gymnastics” and duck under tripods and over equipment to get close enough. The noise of the chopper also makes their questions inaudible on broadcasts, reporters said.
“There’s no question that it works to his advantage that we look unruly and disorderly,” veteran New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker told Politico. “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 Trump administration has not held a formal White House press briefing in more than five months, Politico reported. When Trump first took office, press secretary Sean Spicer held frequent briefings. The amount and lengths of briefings dwindled under Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Grisham has not hosted a briefing since taking the job in June.
Former President Obama held 24 solo news conferences during his first 30 months in office, compared to Trump’s eight during that time span, Knoller said. Obama’s administration held daily news briefings, while Trump takes to Twitter almost every day to communicate with the public.