Monday, August 29, 2016


And it's been 11,482 days since the American people learned anything worth knowing from one of these masked kabuki events in which some of the nation's least informed journalists demonstrate their "toughness" and "savvy" by asking a president or presidential candidate essentially the same questions they'd be asking Carmelo Anthony at the half (either "How do you feel about the last 45 minutes?" or "What secret thing do you plan to do during the next 45 minutes that you would never tell me but I'm asking it anyway?"). No, I just made that number up.

Sani ol-Molk, Anoushirvan Khan and the courtiers, 19th century. Via Iran Chamber.

But it's 2,758 days since February 9 2009 when the late Helen Thomas asked President Obama how many nations in the Middle East had nuclear weapons, and President Obama declined to answer saying he "didn't want to speculate", and that was probably the last question worth asking heard at one of these shows, and there was no way Obama was going to answer it (the answer is "One", unless Saudi Arabia is really babysitting a Pakistani arsenal in which case it's two, but Prime Minister Netanyahu gets embarrassed for some reason when people talk about it so nobody except rude people like Thomas ever brings it up, and my favorite president, the best president of my lifetime, was shamelessly lying, as everybody expected him to do).

There's a reason why the approval ratings of the press in the United States are considerably lower than those of either Hillary Clinton or even Donald Trump, at 27% (though much higher than those of Congress, of course), which is that their main representation in the public eye comes in the form of the perpetually hostile courtiers surrounding the statesperson, and the blowhards on the Sunday morning shows. They know nothing about policy (the journalists who do are out reporting, not resentful captives in a Bizarro episode of "Entourage" in which everybody wants to see Vince fail, and hopefully die), they're unforgivably vain and frivolous (remember how they swooned over getting a ride on John McCain's tire swing?), and they are dedicated to concealing truth in order to maintain dramatic tension, in the reality-show convention that Donald J. Trump uses so well.

The big-politician press conference as we know it today is a pantomime meant to evoke the good old days of Eisenhower and Kennedy, when reporters who knew their beats extracted information from politicians who had a good idea what they wanted the public to know, and then looked elsewhere for evidence that the politicians were lying, but it isn't anything like those. And even then the most useful journalist in the United States was I.F. Stone, who stayed home and read stuff.

While Hillary Clinton should probably try to do something positive about this situation (I think she should hold out on the press conferences but start letting them on the plane, which Donald J. Trump will never do), she is basically right to feel that it's a waste of time. The 350-odd one-on-one interviews are not merely an adequate substitute for formal press conferences, they're better. Even Chuck Todd gets more valuable information out of a one-on-one than a press conference does.

Obama currently running just a little behind JFK, at 20.45. Like Bush II and Clinton, he's way ahead of Nixon through Reagan mainly by virtue of his fondness for staging joint appearances with visiting heads of state or government, which somewhat reins in the ability of the press to be annoying. Reagan would have done more, perhaps, but he insisted on prime time, and the networks balked. Image via The Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara, where you can find more detailed numbers. 

For a more measured and probably more informative discussion, see old Matt Yglesias. And a parallel rant on the Sunday shows from Driftglass.

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