The latest tack in the White House's media manipulation efforts was announced yesterday:
The renovation of the White House Press Briefing Room.
Renovation itself is, of course, innocuous. Surely the room does need a spiffing up.
But this is not just adding comfy chairs and new curtains. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Next up: a renovation of the briefing room, likely with a video wall that could display everything from "flags waving in the breeze [to] detailed charts and graphs," according to a senior White House official working on the project.
For TV viewers, the video feed could be the sole on-screen image, or could share the space with the speaker...the new technology could help transform White House briefings ... into more interesting viewing.
Both the planned video capabilities and Mr. Snow's hiring appear to be part of a subtle but sweeping effort by administration officials to deliver their message directly to the public, particularly through video...
...Some media observers say the moves to upgrade the White House briefing reflect a focus on minimizing or circumventing criticism of the Bush administration in the place where it has been most concentrated -- the dingy and often unruly press briefing room...
...Media experts say graphics and charts could reinforce the White House's message at briefings. A video wall also could diminish the role of reporters as questioners. For example, remote briefers might sometimes appear on home TV screens to talk past the reporters in the room, and address the public directly...
..."Putting a video wall in the White House allows any administration to shape almost any story much more directly," said Ralph Begleiter ... a professor of communications at the University of Delaware. It's "an extension of the idea that the government wants to speak directly to the public with a voice that's very carefully crafted, without room for the analysis or critiques or amalgamations of fact that reporters routinely bring."
In other words: what was a daily forum where the public, through the media, could attempt to hold the White House accountable for its actions and policies, will become a staged television event to help the White House "catapult the propaganda."
The press corps response to this appears to be a mixture of relief, that their office space is getting a upgrade, and concern, that they'll lose precious "access" as the temporary briefing room will keep them out of the West Wing.
The proper response should be outright defiance: a boycott of the daily briefing.
White House reporters simply should not tolerate being relegated to political props.
Which is what Tony Snow's appointment has been all about: making the briefing a Fox News-style rigged debate with reporters as foils, instead of a means to subject White House positions to public questioning.
The press corps shouldn't stand for it.
And they shouldn't worry about losing anything by boycotting it.
Sure, the Bushies would gladly call their bluff and cancel the briefing.
But they have sapped the daily briefing of all its utility anyway. No useful information is ever obtained there. Reporters could easily find better ways to spend their time.
Of course, there's no reason to expect the press corps to stand up for itself.
But, once the renovation is finished, there is one thing we can do to help:
When cable news channels air the new briefings, change the channel.
Because if the ratings drop when the briefings start, they'll stop airing them, greatly diminshing the power of the Orwellian "video wall."