It’s often easy to dump on White House reporters. They frequently get attacked for hyping trivial stories or for being both prisoners and promoters of the conventional wisdom. They’re routinely assailed for not asking the right questions (as in the questions their critics would like to pose the president and his aides). But it’s a tough beat—try squeezing unpackaged news out of the White House—and most of them do work long and hard to penetrate (or explain) the surface story.
An especially difficult task for them occurs during one of my favorite moments of White House journalism: the pre-presidential stand-up. This happens when the president holds a press conference or issues a statement in person. In the moments before the commander in chief takes to the podium, the network correspondents do live intros, talking to their anchors in the studios, and telling the audience what to look for in the coming remarks. These journos are usually standing next to one another—and each speaking loudly. Their reports meld into an aural amalgamation of media analysis. For each of them, the challenge is to keep focus, stare straight into the camera, say something intelligent, and, above all else, not listen to the cacophony he or she is helping to create—and not to be distracted by the other reporters in the room chuckling about this cluster-report.
Here’s an example from yesterday’s surprise visit by Obama to the White House briefing room to discuss his long-form birth certificates. The four stars of this video are Chuck Todd of NBC News and MSNBC, Wendell Goler of Fox News, Bill Plante of CBS News, and Jake Tapper of ABC News.