Presidential news conferences have become shallow, theatrical events where presidents and reporters alike try to look good for television and worry little about substance, a Harvard University panel said.
The commission of 21 journalists and scholars recommended the next president hold daytime news conferences at least twice a month and evening news conferences at least six times a year.This would encourage more vigorous exchanges between the president and reporters and help alleviate the frustration and hostility reporters feel toward the president because they are not getting enough access needed to do their jobs, the panel said.
In addition, regular contact would reduce the spectacle-like atmosphere that surrounds prime-time, evening news conferences in the White House's ornate East Room, it said.
"As it stands now, the news conference has become an occasion rather than a regular event, high on theater and low on content. Neither the media nor the president can be satisfied with the current state of affairs," said the report commissioned by Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The panel pointed out that the frequency of presidential news conferences has dropped from once a week during the tenure of Franklin Roosevelt to once every two months under President Reagan, and that reporters have had to resort to the "unseemly" practice of shouting questions at the president over the roar of helicopter engines.
Presidents also have tended to meet with the media less frequently as their term in office goes on.
At the same time, news conferences have become "less informative and spontaneous," as reporters, concerned with how they will look on television, ask predictable questions, and presidents, rehearsed by their staffs, dish up predictable answers.
The panel recommended that the regular monthly news conferences be held in the daytime without the pressures of a prime-time television audience and that fewer journalists be invited.
One of the two monthly news conferences should be with a small group of journalists and not covered by live television so reporters can interact with the president and ask follow-up questions, it said.
Because the American people need to see their president in action, the commission said the next president should continue the evening news conference on an average of once every two months.