In Wednesday’s interview with me that quickly zipped around the MSM for its snippet of conversation about Tony Snow’s future, the White House Press Secretary revealed that plans on how the mid-September report of General Petraeus would be communicated had not yet been decided. This is a crucial moment in securing the confidence of the country not just in the early success of the surge, but more generally in the leadership of the Coalition’s forces in Iraq and the plan they are following, and so I offer these suggestions to the team trying to discern how best to communicate with the American public on this vital effort.
In a word, bluntly. In another word, seriously. That means a new approach that avoids both the gaggle and the narrow field of vision of the White House press corps while understanding that there is no “audience” in America anymore, but many very discrete audiences, each one of which needs to hear what the general has to say.
While General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will appear before the relevant Congressional committees, it is the right of the American people, and especially those families that have sacrificed so much through the loss of a loved one, and the men and women of the military who are called on to bear the burden, to receive both an unmediated report from the general, but also a serious set of tough questions.
The Indian Treaty Room in the OEOB can accommodate a number of cameras and journalists. I suggest that after receiving the general and the ambassador for a first person report, the president ask Tony Snow to introduce the pair for their extended remarks in the ITR, followed by questions from a group of high profile and experienced journalists, wherein each journalist would be allowed three questions. The only precondition should be that their networks carry the entire proceedings live or, if a print organization or electronic medium, post the entire transcript and audio file as soon as they are available.
The journalists invited to attend and ask questions provided their news organizations agree to the conditions should be the biggest names in responsible reporting: Wolf Blitzer, Charlie Gibson, Brit Hume, Time Russert, and George Stephanopoulos from MSM, Bill Bennett, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh representing the vast audience (and three large networks) of syndicated radio, Peter Beinart, E.J. Dionne, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and Nina Easton from print opinion journalism, The New York Times’ John Burns and the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks from print reporting, and from new media, Jeralyn Merritt, Michelle Malkin and Ed Morrissey. I would also recommend Matt Burden from Blackfive and NZ from The Victory Caucus as representatives of bloggers long committed in word and deed to supporting the troops.
That’s a total of 20 journalists of all varieties, representing not only a huge audience but also a broad spectrum of views and constituencies, and certain to present General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker with a wide array of fair but important questions. If the order of the questions was determined by a draw from the hat, no one could accuse the White House of attempting to manage the news.
Assuming the general spoke 30 minutes and the ambassador 15, their remarks and the 60 questions to follow could consume four hours.
And those four hours would have the huge audience they deserved.