Ari Fleischer: If You Want the Press To Look Bad, Let Them Scream for Attention at Press Conferences

February 22nd, 2009 9:35 AM

The Washington Post opinion pages on Sunday included a forum on how President Obama should conduct press conferences, complete with opinions from Helen Thomas, Sam Donaldson, and Dan Rather. Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s first press secretary, said he usually gave Bush a call list and a seating chart. But he suggested that sedate press conferences are in the best interest of the press, since they’re not pretty when they’re rowdy:

If President Obama wants to see the White House press corps hoist themselves on their own petards, he should grant them their wish. Instead of using a list to call on reporters at his next news conference, he should let them shout.

When trust in the media is dropping along with the number of people who read newspapers and watch the news, the last thing journalists should do is act like fools on national TV, seeing who has the loudest voice -- or the reddest dress -- with their hands raised, yelling "me, me, me, me."

As White House press secretary, I typically gave President Bush a call list and a grid showing him where reporters would be seated. For the president, it makes things easier and more orderly. On the other hand, it might be tempting to the "Sonny Corleone" side of press secretary Robert Gibbs's personality to let the unruly mob contrast with a calm and cool Commander in Chief.

The media resist being "controlled." But in the YouTube age, the media will make themselves look bad if left to their own devices. President Obama should do himself, and the media, a favor and keep working from a list.