It's Time For White House Reporters To Get Off Their Phones

What Americans need now from the people who cover the White House is 100% of their attention.
03/15/2017 05:50 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2017
Carlos Barria / Reuters

The dumpster fire in the Oval Office now demands liberal Americans and the Trump supporters who regret their vote to be more vigilant and politically active. And Trump voters, if you don’t regret your vote yet, you will. Probably the day you discover Benjamin Franklin’s face on the hundred has been replaced with Yakov Smirnoff’s.

And lots of Americans have answered the call. People now regularly call their congressmen – and not just to yell Baba-Booey. Citizens make signs, go to demonstrations, watch more news, read more analysis, and engage in social media activism.

In these extraordinary times, it’s imperative that all branches of the opposition remain vigilant ― including the media. However, there’s one group of reporters in particular who’ve taken their eye off the ball.

I’m talking about the White House press corp.

Five days a week, Sean Spicer holds a press conference. And just like sex, women think it lasts two minutes. Guys think it so totally can go all night. It is, in fact, the only guaranteed one hour each day for the press to demand answers and to rub disinfectant on the open sore that is the Trump White House.

What I wanted to know is, are Americans getting 100% of the White House press corps’ attention, focus, and energy during those daily press conferences?

To find out, I watched 10 hours of Sean Spicer press conferences from days in both February and March. And yes, my retinas do fucking burn, but my team of doctors, scientists and eyebrow stylists say it should clear up in 4 to 8 years.

So, I made a BIGLY discovery watching these press conferences: Waaaay too many White House reporters aren’t paying attention to their colleagues’ questions or the press secretary’s answers… because they are on their goddamned fucking phones.

Christ. Even people at the movies know to turn off their phones… even for the trailers… even if it’s a trailer for ‘Fast and The Furious 10’ because they know it’s a distraction. And if the phone can distract you from understanding that movie’s plot ― “Cars go fast… zoom, zoom, zoom… Explosion. Explosion. Gratuitous boob shot. Gratuitous ass shot. Explosion. The end.” ― Imagine how distracting the phone is when your job is to listen to the mouthpiece for the president as he very quickly tries to sneak by you that border patrol agents carrying AK-47s are going to break down your door and drag your 70-something Guatemalan nanny back to the Mexico border, or how your grandma is gonna need a casket lickety-split because now she has to choose between her Werther’s butterscotch drops and her diabetes medicine.

In these extraordinary times, it’s imperative that all branches of the opposition remain vigilant ― including the media.

Here’s the facts: Study after scientific study has confirmed with 100% absolute certainty that cell phone usage distracts from whatever else you’re doing. Three-thousand drivers distracted by their phone die every year while driving on U.S. highways.

In 2014, Time Magazine reported that “just having it visible nearby may distract you from complex tasks,” adding: 

“... your focus is not on the task at hand, whether it be trying to write an article, get this spreadsheet set up, or just socializing; your mind is elsewhere.”

And I didn’t just see reporters on their phone a few times, some of them are on their phone nearly every time the camera cuts to them (see video below).

One reporter, in particular, was on her phone the most: CBS’s White House correspondent, Margaret Brennan (see video below).

In fact, nearly the only time Brennan wasn’t on her phone was when she was asking Sean Spicer a question. However, the minute she got her answer ― and I swear this is real ― she was back on her phone.

And what was she doing? Well, some of the time, she was on Twitter. On March 10th, the White House Press briefing was held from 10:45 till 11:45. And, she was live tweeting. Only, here’s the thing: The White House briefing room is not The People’s Choice Awards. She’s the White House correspondent for CBS News trying to determine if Russia hacked the U.S. election. Seems like you’d have to pay attention… She’s not Ryan Seacrest trying to determine what the fuck Bjork is wearing (see video below).

Margaret Brennan was also re-tweeting other White House correspondents who were also at the press conference. There was a tweet from ABC’s Jon Karl, and seconds later it was re-tweeted by Margaret Brennan. If she really wanted to know what Jon Karl was up to, it would have been much easier to lean over and ask him. He was sitting ONE SEAT AWAY!

I’ve worked in TV for 20 years and there are two things I’m 100% certain of: Americans love to laugh at Kevin James riding a Segway, and, CBS can afford a Twitter intern so their reporters can focus on what’s important ― like fact-checking the president’s lies ― NOT getting more Twitter followers.

In case I haven’t been clear, what Americans need now from the people who cover the White House is 100% of their attention for the one hour where Sean Spicer is trying to defend that which is indefensible.

And here’s the other thing: Margaret Brennan isn’t entirely to blame. She’s been forced into an untenable position. We viewers have short attention spans, we demand information RIGHT. THIS. SECOND. Otherwise, we change channels or click another website. And that’s our fault. And we should do better. We say we want information fast but what we really mean is accurate.

Also, I reached out to CBS, CBS News, Margaret Brennan and the White House Correspondent’s association. Only the White House Correspondent’s Association got back to me; their comment was: “We decline to comment.”

Finally, there were many reporters covering the press conferences that I never saw on their phones.

Jon Hotchkiss has 14 Emmy nominations and is the host of Be Less Stupid, which you can see free @ factbox.tv.

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