Regular White House media briefings should “absolutely” return, according to the President Donald Trump’s first press secretary, Sean Spicer.
“There is a utility in making sure people see the government in action,” Spicer tells VOA. “It is an opportunity for the White House to make sure that you're getting your message out. And it gives you an opportunity, unlike anyone else, to sort of capture the media attention and therefore their audiences’ attention in a way that no other form does.”
The lectern in the Brady Briefing Room, just steps away from the press office, is literally gathering dust, having not been used for more than three months.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who was Spicer’s successor, announced last Friday she is departing by the end of this month.
Sanders has defended the atrophy of the scheduled briefings, noting she, the president, and other top administration officials are frequently available to answer reporters’ questions outside of the 49-seat briefing room.
Spicer, the subject of media criticism during his seven-month tenure for contentious exchanges from the podium and about his credibility, says it is not necessary to hold daily briefings nor do they all need to be televised.
“Figure out a way to mix them in,” says Spicer who characterizes the briefings in the Trump administration as devolving into “media circuses where it’s been a yell fest, where it’s been an opportunity for someone to get up and showboat.”
The drama-filled briefings conducted by Spicer and Sanders were frequently carried live in their entirety by cable TV networks.
Spicer explains that each briefing takes three to five hours of preparation for the White House press office, including gathering information from across government and officials need to determine whether it is the best use of their time.
Trump has not announced who will succeed Sanders.
Spicer says whoever is chosen needs to be up to the minute on the president’s thinking – not just familiar with where Trump was on an issue hours ago.
“Making sure that you are as up to date as possible before you speak for the president is crucial,” says Spicer. “The president talks to folks all the time, his decision making can be in flux depending on the issue. And, so, making sure that you're in the loop, as issues are evolving, is crucial.”
Spicer, who has written a book, The Briefing, that covers his time as press secretary – which saw him became a household name and a parodied figure on late night comedy and talk shows – acknowledges “there were unequivocally times I made mistakes.” But Spicer contends he never told a lie at the podium nor did Trump ever ask him not to tell the truth.
“But we would have discussions about whether or not we needed to discuss an issue or promote something that we didn't think was going to get a good reaction,” says Spicer. “But there's a big difference between wanting to do that and misleading anyone.”
Spicer does agree with the observation that the briefings he and Sanders conducted were, to a degree, primarily for an audience of one – the nearby occupant of the Oval Office.
“There's no question that this particular president takes a much greater interest in how his views and thoughts are communicated” compared to previous presidents, says Spicer.
Another piece of advice Spicer offers to Sander’s successor, “Double, triple, in quadruple, check everything that you're going to say and do because it's going to go through that level of scrutiny.”