Whiny, “bored” White House reporters evoke no sympathy

White House reporters are bored, Politico reports.

According to Politico’s own White House reporter Max Tani, they’re unhappy because they’re not getting the attention – or reaping the career rewards – that came with covering the madness of the Trump White House.

Biden “has been a journalistic sedative” compared to “the most theatrical, attention-seeking, Beltway-panic-inducing president in living memory,” Tani writes.

“Gone are the Tweets that sent newsrooms scrambling,” he notes, wistfully.

The constant lies, the wild incompetence, and the staging of an attempted coup all made for great material. Now, White House reporters say, “the storylines, while important, and substantive, can lack flair or be hard to get viewer attention.”

One anonymous reporter told Tani that Press Secretary Jen Psaki “is very good at her job, which is unfortunate.”

It’s not entirely clear whether Tani was looking for sympathy or writing ironically. But in either case, his article reveals a sad truth about political reporters in Washington: Trump was energizing to these people, while the hard work of governing leaves them cold.

Trump turned the White House into a thrilling reality TV show and covering him was easy. All that mattered was Trump. He’d say something nuts, White House reporters would write it down, adding a caveat somewhere that “critics disagree.” They’d get rewarded by trending on Twitter, leading the front page, and getting invited onto TV.

Now it’s more complicated.

They think it’s boring, but that’s because they’re not doing what the public needs them to do. They’re not there to get cheap thrills and better jobs, they are there to tell the nation and the world what the White House is doing, why, and whether it’s helping or hurting.

The reality is that the nation and the world face an unprecedented array of challenges. So instead of asking “why doesn’t the president talk to us more?” they should be asking “how can we fix this mess?” But that requires breadth of knowledge and critical thinking – and sources outside the White House – all of which is apparently too much trouble.

Their addiction to conflict and drama is arguably the answer to the last question the late great media critic Eric Boehlert asked on his blog: “Why is the press rooting against Biden?” Their disappointment with Biden, as amply illustrated in Tani’s article, really makes it sound like they want Trump back.

The response on Twitter was furious, full of mockery and pain. These tweets are really worth reading:

  • Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas: The horror of covering a competent, sane, and substantive government. You mean they can’t stash the best stuff for their books two years later? Seriously, fuck them all. The presidency shouldn’t be entertainment.
  • Comedian Christopher Titus: The truth about the media, they’d rather have the country in flames behind them as the[y] leer into the camera with fake empathy.
  • Historian and Substacker Heather Cox Richardson: This is infuriating. We finally have smart, well-informed officials who are producing reams of information. Reporters have the access to engage in serious discussions about huge questions, and instead they say they want cartoon drama?
  • Columbia Journalism Review writer Matthew Ingram: I’ve seen a lot of pieces that make journalists look bad, but this one takes it to a new level. “I liked Trump better because covering the White House is boring now.” You should be ashamed of yourselves
  • Investigative journalist Reed Richardson: This Politico piece about how White House correspondents aren’t cashing in anymore during the Biden era is truly execrable. And the anonymous quotes…oof…they speak to a whole other level of pathology about careerism undermining journalism’s true purpose.
  • Political scientist Todd Tucker: Meanwhile, there is more policy development happening than at any time in decades. Those of us who work on such things are drowning in paper and would love an assist from the media in making sense of it.
  • Actor/director Hal Sparks: Reporters complain that “the storylines, while important, and substantive, can lack flair or be hard to get viewer attention”..psst.. hey Whitehouse press corp…maybe you are just shitty writers…ever think of that?
  • Political reporter for The Independent Eric Garcia: “You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you.”- @michelleisawolf
  • Stand-up comic Greg Proops: It’s a complete failure of journalism. They and their masters really loved the violence, chaos and pain of Orange 45 & his brigands. Breathlessly repeating his incoherence.
  • Food journalist Tom Laskawy: Amazing. They literally pine for incompetent, authoritarian government. It’s a pretty repellent sentiment for journalists whose responsibility is to inform the public and who as a group are a key democratic institution to express.
  • Oracular pundit Norman Ornstein: Tells us way too much about the state of American journalism.
  • USA Today columnist Connie Schultz: This piece is an embarrassment.
  • Documentary filmmaker Soledad O’Brien: This drives a lot of the coverage we see and read.
  • Former newspaper editor Melanie Sill: If there ever was a piece that illustrates how broken the Washington press is, this is it.
  • @emptywording: Way to say the quiet part out loud. It isn’t about the work, it’s about the trajectory. I don’t want political journalism to be sexy and exciting vehicles to stardom. I just want good reporting.
  • Tech policy reporter Karl Bode: the very broken U.S. political press (and the ad-based engagement economy that props up the whole mess) hates substance, nuance, and a lack of controversy. like, say, significant benefits coming from an historic infrastructure investment package.

You want to know what Twitter is good for? Savaging the people who abuse their perches in the traditional media.

The timing of this article is not coincidental, by the way. As Tani writes, “White House scribes” are ” shaking out their tuxedos and cocktail dresses to gather for the White House Correspondents’ dinner on Saturday.” There, they will celebrate themselves for their awesomeness, despite how boring and unrewarding their jobs are.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I hear Eric Boehlert applauding.

    This is what drew me to read the blogs of press critics like you, and like Eric. I’m not so much a “we’re being lied to” critic myself as I am someone who keeps asking why journalists no longer seem to be informing me, and that although I read news 2 hours a day, I’m receiving very little information….and then Trump farts, and it’s above the fold in every major US newspaper, and with “analysis,” for more than a week.

    Is it the media’s poor reporting that makes people think Biden is a lousy president? YES.

  2. It’s truly amusing — nay, it’s falling-down hilarious — to see Dan Froomkin of all people complain about whining “reporters.” It only shows that it’s impossible to embarrass a dog or a “progressive.”

  3. I’m only a longtime news consumer, not a professional critic, but my non-professional take is that reporting truths honestly is nothing the mainstream media are interested in. Too, these venal self-absorbed s***s are — maybe rightly — that Biden books will in now way match the Trump delayed revelation industry.
    Boo hoo f***ing hoo.

  4. I’ve done media interviews for 30+ years on technical issues related to mosquito control. Reporters *used* to come to interviews prepared to discuss in detail what I do. Not any more, and this precedes the “engagement economy”. It’s very difficult to get someone up to speed on stuff it’s taken me a lifetime to grasp, in an hour or two. I *always* expect them to get something wrong, and as a public service employee, I am prohibited from proof reading their work to avoid charges of censorship. Either they don’t think it’s important to do background, or they aren’t being paid to do background, or both.

    Mr. Froomkin, I’ve followed your writing since your Washington Post days. Keep up the good work!

  5. This could be the start of a chapter in a new edition, a better version of “Twilight of the Elites”. This version of professionalism, in which the very idea of loyalty to a profession itself, or any idea that elite status exists to serve a larger good, infects everything. Institutions are being run into the ground, because professionalism, and elite status are forthrightly for pure self-enrichment.

    Our elites have been mis-educated. Is this what the academy did while it was destroying itself (replacing tenured positions with adjuncts and raising their own pay)?

  6. I trained to be a journalist and worked in broadcast for several years. I even covered a presidential visit in which local news agencies were given the first questions. Someone else asked the first question I had prepared, but I had several more that I could use. When I was fortunate enough to be called on, I did have a question that hadn’t been asked already. This is the most frustrating thing I see in today’s press briefings: the repeated questions that have already been answered (“Why did the Vice President take the Pfizer covid pill?” being the most recent example). Following up on a previous question is fine but asking the same thing again and again demonstrates lack of preparation, imagination, or skill. If the White House press corps is bored, perhaps they need some remedial education.

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