There was a time when White House reporters did their work and didn’t cry like little babies. The men were men and the women were not to be tangled with (Helen Thomas in her prime).
But those days are gone. Long gone.
The effete David Gregory (remember him?) made his career at NBC by beating up a White House spokesman every day in front of the cameras during the administration of George W. Bush. Mr. Gregory would grandstand and peacock and ask interminably long questions (more camera time, folks!), berating White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who was kept on a short leash by the communications director at the time, Dan Bartlett. Mr. Gregory would ask five, six, sometimes 10 questions in the daily briefings, often demanding that the White House “tell the American people why … “
Of course, Mr. Gregory quickly crashed and burned when the ratings for “Meet The Press,” which he briefly hosted, went into the toilet after he took over. He was fired and wandered off into the wilderness.
Skip ahead to 2017. Inside the White House now: the most media-savvy president in history, Donald Trump. Also there: Jim Acosta, a reporter for the third-place cable news network, CNN. Cue fireworks.
As he does, Mr. Trump sized up Mr. Acosta in minutes. In May 2016, then-candidate Mr. Trump interrupted a peacocking Mr. Acosta and said, “Excuse me, excuse me, I’ve watched you on TV. You’re a real beauty.”
At a press conference this past February, Mr. Trump cut off Mr. Acosta after he’d asked several questions.
TRUMP: Sit down. Sit down. We’ll get it.
ACOSTA: Just because the attack of fake news and attacking our network, I just want to ask you, sir —
TRUMP: I’m changing it from fake news, though.
ACOSTA: Doesn’t that undermine —
TRUMP: Very fake news.
ACOSTA: But aren’t you —
TRUMP: Go ahead.
ACOSTA: Real news, Mr. President.
So it should come as no surprise that Mr. Acosta is once again crying like a baby who needs his nappy changed. After the White House on Monday announced that it would hold its daily briefing off camera — which TV peacockers hate because they can’t grandstand for air time — Mr. Acosta went off on Twitter.
“At off camera no audio briefing, Spicer took a question from a Russian reporter but not from CNN. #pravda,” he tweeted, followed by several more.
“There is a suppression of information going on at this WH that would not be tolerated at a city council mtg or press conf with a state gov.”
And: “Call me old fashioned but I think the White House of the United States of America should have the backbone to answer questions on camera.”
And: “Make no mistake about what we are all witnessing. This is a WH that is stonewalling the news media. Hiding behind no camera/no audio gaggles.”
Now, just to set the record straight (and I’ve covered four presidents), the White House — all the way back to the early 1990s — sometimes holds briefings off camera. Top aides for Bush told me they did so to nip the gotcha’ journalism that was becoming more popular among the mainstream media.
But anyone following Mr. Acosta’s complaining should know this: The White House is still on the record during the off-camera briefings. Reporters can still ask tough questions and hold the administration accountable. They just won’t have any explosive tape where they berate the press secretary and demand that he “tell the American people why … “
They don’t get self-aggrandizing video, but they can do their jobs — if they want to.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer did add to the fray, refusing to call on Mr. Acosta during Monday’s briefing. When asked by Time reporter Zeke Miller why “our friends in radio and television can’t use this live,” Mr. Spicer said “There are days where we decide that the president’s voice should be the one who speaks for the administration,” noting that Mr. Trump had made comments at a photo op and would make more at a meeting later in the day.
“As Spicer walked away, Mr. Acosta shouted: ‘It’s off-camera and you can’t answer questions?’ ” Mr. Acosta whined, according to The Hill.
“The White House press secretary is getting to a point where he’s just kind of useless,” Mr. Acosta said after the briefing. “If they’re getting to this point where he’s not going to answer questions or go on camera or have audio, why are we even having these briefings or gaggles in the first place?”
Awwww, poor baby. Now Mr. Acosta can’t make his career by berating a White House spokesman on camera — like Mr. Gregory did? What a shame.
Or maybe little Jimmy just needs a nap. Or a baba. Or his binky.
• Joseph Curl has covered politics for 25 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent at The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter via @josephcurl.