Former US officials call for the return of press briefings: 'It's about accountability'
Posted January 12, 2020 3:17 p.m. EST
CNN — A group of former US government officials are calling on the Trump administration to resume the practice of holding regular press briefings.
In an open letter released Friday, a group of thirteen former White House press secretaries, foreign service and military officials representing both sides of the aisle argued for the return of press briefings both from the White House and from other government agencies, stressing their importance to the administration, its foreign allies and the American public.
Regular press briefings have been the norm for decades. Under previous administrations, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, the White House and State Department held daily or almost daily briefings. But it has been 307 days since the last formal, on-camera White House press briefing, and President Donald Trump has made a habit of disparaging news organizations, including CNN.
"I think press briefings ... not only provide a letter of accountability for the government, and scrutiny of the decisions that they are making, but it also helps make better decisions," John Kirby, former press secretary for the Pentagon and Department of State and one of the letter's authors, said on "Reliable Sources" Sunday. "It helps the policy making process when you have ideas that are churned out there in the free press every single day."
By appearing before the press on a regular basis, the administration is forced to act decisively, describe the context and reasoning for its decisions and not offer changing explanations of the rationale for its decisions, the letter argues.
That's why, Kirby said, it's not enough that President Donald Trump makes himself available to take questions directly from the press outside the White House or while traveling.
"The briefings give you accountability," Kirby said. "It's not just about access, it's about accountability. And that's what's lacking here."
The letter also highlights the importance of the briefings in allowing the American public to hear directly from government officials. It brings up the families of US military members or diplomats overseas who rely on information from the government about the livelihood of their loved ones.
And the letter argues that press briefings are especially important in an era of rampant and organized disinformation on social media.
"In times of military conflict and international crisis, these briefings take on even more importance," the letter states. "Americans want to know the latest developments and seek the truth. On social media, wild rumors can fly, and our adversaries can manipulate disinformation to their advantage. This is now well documented."
Brendan Buck, a former top aide for Republican House Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner who was not a part of the group that authored the letter, added in an interview with CNN's S.E. Cupp Saturday that in such an environment, regular press briefings would likely benefit the administration.
"What I don't understand is why they don't do it, it isn't in their benefit," Buck said. "The reason that people do press briefings, one of them, is that it helps them. It helps shape the narrative."
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham and spokesman Hogan Gidley did not immediately respond to a request by CNN for comment on this story.
In a comment to the New York Times Friday, Gidley referred to the letter writers as "DC establishment swamp creatures."
But Kirby, who responded to Gidley's comment by saying he has a "thick skin" after two stints as a press secretary, said the group felt "it was important for us to lay this marker down."
"The American people have a right to know that the kind of decisions that their elected leaders have been making have been informed by context and deeper understanding and we're not getting any of that because there's no daily briefing, no way to ask a spokesperson every single day how these decisions are being processed," Kirby said.