Sometimes, it’s a matter of personal style. Sometimes, it’s a matter of avoidance. But it’s always a matter of message control. A particularly interesting phenomenon of presidential politics/rhetoric is the press conference. And many scholars who study such things place a great deal of emphasis on the number of conferences a president holds.
Mike Allen considers the Bush record so far and discovers that 43 has held only 8 over the past 2 years and 45 days. How should we interpret this? White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett says of this low number that:
“if you have a message you’re trying to deliver, a news conference can go in a different direction.”
“In this case, we know what the questions are going to be, and those are the ones we want to answer,” Bartlett said. “We think the public will see the thought and care and attention he’s given to a lot of the different questions that are being asked about the diplomatic side and the military side and the potential post-Iraq issue. These are all legitimate questions that he has answers for and wants to talk about.”
Let’s look at an important element of the rhetorical situation in terms of message control. The venue: The East Room. This is a large room that conveys a sense of power and grandeur befitting the topic under discussion. Of the choice, the article says:
“The president thinks that sometimes East Room news conferences are more about the reporters and the theater of the moment and less about the substance of the answers,” a senior administration official said. “So his inclination is to hold more, informal news conferences where the answers are the story and not lengthy questions on live TV.”
The question the reporter never answers is: So why the East Room this time? But the answer is really obvious. First, the topic is of such importance that the reports will self-focus or self-edit. Second, a grand event calls for a grand venue. Third, in the larger, grander room, it’s easier for the communications staff to manipulate the setting to make the president appear larger than life and the press appear diminutive. So this choice of venue is all about the show.
Part of the rhetoric, and the message control, of this press conference was the room itself. Any suggestion that the room plays to the reporters’ interests is spin.