Should the media boycott White House media briefings? Probably not. | Bleader

Should the media boycott White House media briefings? Probably not.

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White House press secretary Sean Spicer takes questions during a White House press briefing Monday. - BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/GETTY IMAGES
  • BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images
  • White House press secretary Sean Spicer takes questions during a White House press briefing Monday.

As an old friend from the Reader said on Facebook the other day, "Good reporters don't need Sean Spicer." As another Reader friend added, "I. F. Stone worked without 'access.' He relied almost entirely on public documents."

So if Spicer says the New York Times and CNN and other media can't sit in on last Friday's White House news briefings, the hell with Spicer. They'll register the insult and keep on sniffing.

But should journalists do more? In protest, Time and AP reporters boycotted last Friday's briefing. But did they set an excellent example, or one other journalists should hesitate to follow?

Here's the pugnacious declaration of the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman: "Shame on reporters who didn't walk out of the White House briefing denied to their CNN, NYT etc colleagues."

And here's the fighting words of CNN: "This is an unacceptable development from the Trump White House. Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don't like. We'll keep reporting regardless."

It's great to see the news corps standing tall! But as a practical matter, which is the higher value being expressed here: solidarity or showing up? To walk out is a dramatic gesture. To keep reporting regardless is old-fashioned professionalism. Not much news comes out of Spicer's surly briefings, but if only acned lickspittles from alt-right media show up, Spicer wins. And he and his boss would be handed plenty to say about famous reporters too nakedly antagonistic to perform their basic duties.

So I'm wondering if media solidarity is too precious to waste on Spicer. I had something loftier in mind a few days before Trump took office when I wrote: "Media is a collective noun, but it came to consist of huge, jealous, and rival establishments that kept a close eye on one another but rarely allied. If now it's us against him, media better be willing to cooperate, to share notes, share stories, and play Whac-A-Mole whenever the White House thinks it's chased down an enemy."

If Trump finally clears the territory—has a news conference no reporter of any consequence shows up for—that needs to be on him, not us. All boycotts aren't created equal. Trump looks sensible for deciding to boycott the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner (or as Bernardo said to Riff, "I don't like you either, so cut it!") Trump's appearance at last year's Al Smith Dinner was a debacle—and that was a crowd that wanted to like him. Whether he tried to play or assail the correspondents at their dinner, he'd have been over his head in enemy waters and he'd emerged looking like a drip.

Reporters, however, like to remind the public they're just doing their jobs, so they should probably keep trying to do them.

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