Today’s confab from the White House briefing room will be the last for nine months while the site undergoes an extreme makeover. While it is indisputable that renovations are necessary, the scope and the timing are surprising.
When originally proposed, the work was expected to take about a month. Typical of Washington’s efficiency, the budget and schedule have exceeded projections. Now, the press corps will be cast out of the White House throughout the fall campaign and beyond into next year. Is the White House erecting new barriers between itself and the media during a campaign season that is likely to be rife with bad news for the incumbent party?
When the press does return (if they return), they will hardly recognize the place. Press Secretary Tony Snow, newly recruited from Fox News, seems bent on bringing the Fox flavor to presidential briefings. The centerpiece of the remodeling will be a video wall that can display anything from waving flags to charts and graphs to remote speakers. The press pool will be able to televise the podium with the video wall in the background or switch it to full screen. All they need now is a news ticker, a swoosh, and a Fox logo. They also plan to install microphones and Internet access at all seats. I’m not sure I would use that Internet connection with any expectation of privacy. And reporters would be wise to consider what those mics are recording.
The new press room appears to be developing into a full-fledged PR facility. This administration knows the power of perceptions. They carefully manage all photo ops. They decorate public appearances with graphic reinforcements of the day’s message. They pay pundits to evangelize their agenda. They pioneered video press releases that were made to look like local TV news reports, and distributed them to stations that aired them without disclosing that they were fake.
Now they are putting the finishing touches on the propaganda machine that is already humming at the White House. For those interested in substantive journalism, this electronic theater could be a step backwards. The flashy graphics and canned promotional clips may serve to distract from the probing inquiries of reporters. In the end, the audience will remember the brightly shining objects that filled their screen. What will those objects look like? Will they show the rubble produced by a suicide bomber in Baghdad? Will they show victims of natural disasters here at home? Not likely. But they will show positive images that promote whatever fiction they are trying to sell that day. Those images will be as professionally conceived as any other television commercial. And it will be their intention to have the same effect. Politics will be just another consumer product, and ideology will be just another brand.
Update: The New WH Propaganda Center Is Open.