The televised White House news briefing, after emerging as a can’t-miss ritual of the early days of the Trump administration, has in recent weeks become shorter, less informative and less accessible, with some of the briefings declared off-limits to live broadcasting.
The White House Correspondents’ Association is not pleased.
“We believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials face questions from an independent news media,” the group’s president, Jeff Mason of Reuters, wrote in a note to members on Friday.
Mr. Mason met on Thursday with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, and his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to raise concerns about a recent series of briefings in which the administration prohibited television cameras from recording the event. It did not appear that a resolution was reached.
“We are not satisfied with the current state of play, and we will work hard to change it,” Mr. Mason wrote. “We will keep you posted as developments occur.”
Mr. Mason’s memo capped a week in which some journalists, notably at CNN, expressed increasing frustration with the White House’s decree that audio recordings of the briefings could not be broadcast until the question-and-answer session had concluded.
There is little trust these days between the White House news media and the Trump communications office, which has exacerbated tension above the usual jockeying for access.
Off-camera briefings occurred in previous administrations, but often among regular televised sessions with the press secretary. Mr. Spicer, after initially attracting big audiences for televised briefings several times a week, has cut back; there are now fewer televised briefings with fewer questions.
The notion of reducing television coverage of the briefings is not unique to the current administration. Mike McCurry, who was President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, has said that he regretted allowing cameras to start broadcasting the briefings, saying the temptation for television reporters to grandstand has eroded the quality of the sessions.
White House correspondents, while acknowledging that the briefings can sometimes have limited value as a reporting tool, say that it is still important for an administration to discuss its actions and its policy in a public forum — even if the ritual has become an opportunity for press secretaries to spin and obfuscate on behalf of the president.
Mr. Spicer and his colleagues have recently been more close-lipped than those in previous administrations, often saying that they simply do not know the president’s thinking on an issue or that they have not had a chance to ask him.
As Mr. Spicer and Ms. Sanders have been trading briefing duties, Mr. Spicer has spoken with potential candidates to take over the daily role at the White House lectern. But in an interview on Fox News on Friday, Mr. Spicer demurred when he was asked if he was taking on a new role.
“We’re continuing to proceed as following,” Mr. Spicer said. “I wouldn’t read everything that you see in some of these Washington-based publications.”