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The battle between the press and the president

Of the two comments I have heard most regarding media activity in the White House press room, the most ridiculous comment I hear is “Why don’t you guys all get up and walk out?”

This comment assumes almost the same kind of mindset attributed to the president: the press is a monolithic group of reporters working in unison to create a narrative. The president believes we are trying to create a false narrative or are unfair in the way we cover his administration; everyone else just thinks we are often full of it.

The truth is we are not part of the fictional Gaia. We do not work in unison. We are a group of reporters who work for a variety of different organizations – all of them competing to get the most we can with the resources at our disposal. We are more like viruses than cells in a common body.

So the moment anyone would decide to get up and walk out of the press room four more reporters would replace you, hoping to get their questions heard.

This administration would also love it if no one showed up in the press room, thereby eliminating the need to communicate at all with the public except on terms favorable to the administration.

There is no doubt the president frowns upon the daily exchange between reporters and his surrogates. After all, he has never once visited his own press room for a news conference.

While it is chaotic and a vibrant room filled with spirited exchanges between the government and the members of the press, it is not the type of chaos in which the president thrives.

Trump prefers pool sprays, quick talks on the White House South Lawn and limited interactions with the free press that he can control and end quickly if he so chooses.

The ability to dart away is imperativefor this president to succeed.

An open news conference, for the president, is preferable only if compared to sitting down to an extended interview under oath with the Robert Mueller.

Many reporters predict we will never see President Donald Trump visit his own press briefing room and I am beginning to believe it – though I say that with the caveat it is practically impossible to predict what the president will or will not do.

The best you can hope is to flip a coin and follow your choice.

Meanwhile, we have to press forward in trying to cover a presidency that routinely ignores us and then makes up its own facts while accusing the entire American press corps of spreading “fake news.”

He has declared war on us. He says we are the enemy of the people. His surrogates have compared us to an opposition political party – which is not hard to fathom in an administration where a criminal search on an attorney’s office and home are considered an attack on the country and what we stand for.

What do we stand for if we think due process is a violation of what the country stands for?

Where are we if most people think we would be better off boycotting press briefings than attending them?

The fact is we have a job to do. We are in the White House to learn what is really going on with the president and his administration – warts and all. He wants to put his best foot forward, and I understand that sentiment. Indeed I have some empathy for that point of view.

But the president is not a king and cannot be allowed to dictate what is or what is not a fact.

The other sentiment I hear often from readers – at least those not disparaging me, questioning my religion, threatening to kill me or calling me a variety of offensive names – is: Why doesn’t the press work together in the press room more often?

Tuesday this week was an excellent example of what can occur when we do work together.

Several of us, including a CBS producer, Kristen Welker from NBC and myself deferred our questions to other reporters so they could finish asking a question to Sarah Huckabee Sanders. All three of us then followed up with our own questions.

This kind of cooperation is possible and viable when we listen to each other in the press room.

It needs to occur more often, but is dependent on a subjugation of our own ego, in some cases, as well as the fear that Sanders will then bypass you and move on to someone else instead of letting you ask a question.

In fact, Sanders tried that move with me, but it did not work and she finally conceded so I could ask a question about the “Witch Hunt” the president says is occurring because of the Mueller investigation.

The atmosphere in the White House press room continues to be caustic as the press corps works through a disruptive, argumentative and chaotic presidency which appears to be absent of few redeeming qualities.

Mind you there are people in the press room of questionable vitality, but as a whole I will say the entire press corps is represented by some of the finest people it has ever been my privilege to know.

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