The superficial characteristic of the Jim Acosta “controversy” is that the recently banned — actually just his “hard pass” was taken — CNN White House correspondent is a boring narcissist who wants to make all press conferences about him. He never asks a real question. He just spouts his utterly predictable and tedious opinions as long as he can before asking the political equivalent of “When did you stop beating your wife?”
He’s not the only one. He’s just, for the moment, the most extreme of a bad lot. If you watch White House press conferences, you rarely hear a question of any substance. It’s one preening accusation after the other and a complete waste of everyone’s time.
So who benefits from this meaningless charade under the surface (although not far)? Who is profiteering off the grandstanding of Acosta and others?
It’s not the American people — that’s for sure. It’s the major media companies (ABC, CBS, etc.) who, acting as monopolies in a cartel of sorts, get maximum exposure — mostly to the exclusion of everybody else — and therefore increased revenue. A lot of it. Basically, the White House is giving the networks and a few select newspapers (NYT, etc.) free marketing. It’s not intentional, but that’s the way it has evolved.
It’s no surprise then that Fox has backed up CNN in its lawsuit to “Free Jim” against the administration. They’re all drinking from the same trough. That John Roberts is a better reporter than Acosta (who wouldn’t be?) is of, at best, minor consequence. Preserving the cartel is what counts.
Completely lost in this charade is the American public that learns absolutely nothing from these cage fights… er, press conferences.
This isn’t new. Back in the eighties (Reagan era), I spent a week in the press room at the behest of Universal Pictures for whom I was writing a film to star Whoopi Goldberg as a White House correspondent (yuk yuk!). You may have noticed the movie was never made.
At the time, the Acosta du jour was ABC’s Sam Donaldson, ensconced in the front row asking one obnoxious question after the other that, like Acosta’s, never seemed intended to elicit information. Their purpose was only to show off.
So why after all these years are these press conferences the same pointless activity? (Real reporters, like Catherine Herridge, would never be caught dead in one. They’re too busy gathering genuine information.)
Look no further than the WHCA — the White House Correspondents’ Association — the same folks who give you that self-congratulatory annual correspondents’ dinner known as the “nerd prom.” From Wikipedia:
The WHCA operates independently of the White House. Among the more notable issues handled by the WHCA are the credentialing process, access to the President and physical conditions in the White House press briefing rooms
In other words, they determine who gets to sit in that room and where. Naturally, when the White House usurped their prerogatives and banned Acosta, they were irate, as any professional organization, acting in essence as a trade union, would be. Only it’s not the working class they are helping or anything close. It’s those big media conglomerates and their over-paid minions. What the WHCA is doing is of no value to the American public at large. Consciously or not, they are working to preserve a defunct and now reactionary system that does just the reverse, that preserves the status quo and the spoon-feeding of information and opinion to the largely unwitting masses.
So what can we do about this? To start, we could follow Mao’s advice and “let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend.” (Yes, I know he wasn’t serious, but we could be.) We could do this by rotating the presence in the press room among as many media companies and journalists, including citizen journalists and just plain citizens, as practicable. We could also rotate the seating so the same hot shots don’t always sit in front. They don’t get to be there any more often than the man Groucho Marx used to call “the barber in Peru (Illinois).” It would be a good lesson in humility for them and serve them well in the afterlife.
At the very least, the questions would be more interesting, less governed by the market needs of the companies. At the most we might even learn something about our government and society. We certainly don’t as presently constituted.
Roger L. Simon – co-founder and CEO Emeritus of PJ Media – is an author and screenwriter.