Not really White-House style

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Not really White-House style


Kim Hyun-ki
The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Before President Moon Jae-in’s New Year’s news conference, the Blue House said it would be a White House-style event. So I paid close attention. After all was said and done, I was disappointed. A reporter’s question — “What makes you so confident?” — became controversial, but that’s not my point. The method of the conference and the professionalism of the reporters were problematic. It was supposed to be White House-style, but it was nothing like that style.

First, let’s look at the questions. The focus of the conference is not on the president, but on the reporters: the conference is a showdown of sorts. Many reporters began their questions with such greetings as “Happy New Year” or “I wish this year will…” Such personal comments should have been saved for later. If they had enough time for greetings, then they had enough time for more questions since the Blue House explained additional questions were allowed.

But of the 22 reporters selected to ask questions, only two asked additional questions. Their questions were not real follow-up questions either. The conference was scheduled well in advance, so the reporters should have expected the president would consider former government official Kim Tae-woo’s whistle-blowing as a personal issue. The reporters should have asked, “Does it mean Kim was not a member of the Blue House organization?” You don’t have to get permission for additional questions. They must have had various reasons for not asking anything else — such as limited time, consideration for colleagues or concern for criticism. But reporters should ask again and again until they are convinced. The reporters did not seem to be convinced. Would the viewers be? The reporters obviously lacked spirit, training and critical thinking.

I want to share a summary of a Sept. 26 interaction between U.S. President Donald Trump and an NBC News reporter.


As a reporter from KFM, a radio station based in Gyeonggi province, asks a tough question at a New Year’s press conference at the Blue House, President Moon Jae-in’s expression changes. [JTBC]

The reporter asked, “Mr. President, there are now three women accusing Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Are you saying that all three of those women are liars? Is there anything that could be said at this point tomorrow that could cause you to withdraw the nomination?” Trump responded that he had to watch the hearing the next day. The reporter asked, “To follow up on a question that a colleague asked as well, about the benefit of the doubt that you have given to people like Roy Moore, to Roger Ailes, to Bill O’Reilly, to Brett Kavanaugh. They’re all men. Why is that?” Trump responded, “I’ve known them for a long time.” As the reporter mentioned sexual misconduct allegations involving Trump, the president said, “You’ve been asking a question for 10 minutes. Please sit down. Go ahead.” Then the reporter insisted that his questions were interrupted and not answered. Through the tit-for-tat process, 25 questions were asked and answered.

I don’t mean to suggest that the same style should be followed in Korea. Korea has both a different culture and a different system. But there should at least be intense exchanges. Then viewers would see the context and reporters who are not confident about their questions wouldn’t raise their hands. Only then will reporters not be called “trash.” It was also pathetic to see some reporters wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and waving dolls to get a chance to ask a question. At a press conference, the person who asks questions and the person who answers them should be equal.

Next is the style. The Blue House explained that it would be organized as a White House-style conference, in which the president directly picks the reporters. But that’s not the case in the United States. The U.S. president picks major media first. I watched a recent White House conference, and six of the first eight reporters chosen were veteran reporters from major media sitting in the first and second rows of the briefing room, where each row sits seven people. It is like that almost every month.

But if reporters are randomly picked among 200 attending the one or two conferences a year, questions become inconsistent and peripheral. Key questions can be missed. It was uncomfortable to see the president answering question at the center. Blue House reporters stood up when the president entered and even applauded as instructed. It is authoritarian.

Trump and Abe are standing at press conferences and town-hall meetings because they know they are communicating with the public.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 16, Page 30
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