Dateline: WASHINGTON-At an unprecedented conference yesterday on relations between journalism and democratic government, Washington correspondents together with congressional leaders and the President reached an understanding about their public communications: from now on, the politician will deliver his or her talking points to an empty room.
At a subsequent press conference, House Speaker Boehner said that although talking points are useless if no one hears them, "no one takes talking points seriously anymore." Politicians are "professionally and psychologically incapable of being candid in public," he said, or of "listening carefully to a journalist's questions and answering them to fulfill their side of the bargain in a genuine conversation." But since "spinning issues in a stony-faced evasion of whatever the listener is saying" is part of a politician's job description, the politician might as well deliver the spin without the intended listeners being in any way present.
The reader should be aware that because that press conference was the first of its kind and the House Speaker was therefore speaking to two hundred empty seats, the present reporter can only imagine that that was his rationale for agreeing to the conclusions reached at the conference. Political analyst Peter Beinart explains that not even robot-operated cameras will be allowed to record the events. That way, correspondents will be prevented from even indirectly paying any attention to the talking points. "The trick is to ignore them completely," he said, "to retaliate against the politician's ignoring of whatever the journalist is saying."
According to this reporter's imagining of what President Obama said in his later press conference to motivate this new era of American government-media relations, he said, "If you look carefully at how I handle questions at a press conference, you'll see quite clearly that I just couldn't care less about the actual content of those questions. Either way, I'm going to ram through my talking points. You could ask me about what's happening in Timbuktu and I'd pivot to giving my multi-paragraph history lesson on how we reached the current American budget crisis, to frame that issue and make my policy seem the only responsible option. The same goes for every modern president before me."
Questioned by a Washington correspondent-whom this reporter imagines might have spoken at Speaker Boehner's press conference, had there been a single journalist in attendance-as to what political journalists should write about if they're no longer transmitting the talking points, Speaker Boehner might have said, "They'll just have to make stuff up. As it is, no one trusts the media either anymore."
Senate Harry Reid might have said at this morning's press conference, whose one-sided contents we're all blissfully unaware of, that the government and the media are just finally clearing the air. "When I'm speaking in public, I just couldn't give a rat's behind what anyone else is saying," he might have said. "My job is to get my talking points out, come hell or high water. So since this is a monologue, a one-way street, if you will, there's no need for the reporters to be physically present."
Had he been asked how politicians will henceforth get their message out to the American people, when no one will actually be listening any longer to what they're saying, President Obama might have said, "Although as a politician I'm still obligated to speak in public as if I'm the only person in the room, whether anyone hears what I'm saying is irrelevant since politicians no longer need public support. Not only will we say what we're going to say, regardless of what any listener might be saying, but we politicians are going to do what we want to do regardless of what the American people want done."
Political historian Douglas Brinkley explained that the idea of dialogue, in which the participants care about the other person's viewpoint and speak candidly in a cooperative search for the truth, has no place in politics. "Public political speech is all about controlling mass perception," he said. "You'd have to be an imbecile to take any politician's public statements at face value. Better to only pretend the talking points are delivered, just as the politicians only pretend to care about what their listeners are saying."