Obama to Press: Don't Be Sycophants

Urges them to cast critical eye; thanks them for their 'extraordinary service' to democracy
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As the White House press corps prepares for a Donald Trump Administration that has spent months disparaging and marginalizing the traditional media, President Barack Obama, whose own relationship to the press corps has been rocky at times, spent the beginning of his last press conference as President giving them a pep talk, and urging them to tell truth to power.

He also suggested it was important that they had been in the building, a reference to the Trump team's suggestion they might move it to a larger venue to accommodate more reporters.

The following is a slightly edited version of a White House transcript of the press conference:

"I want to thank all of you. Some of you have been covering me for a long time. Some of you I've just gotten to know. We have traveled the world together. We’ve hit a few singles, a few doubles together. I’ve offered advice that I thought was pretty sound, like 'don’t do stupid…stuff.'  (Laughter.)  And even when you complained about my long answers, I just want you to know that the only reason they were long was because you asked six-part questions. (Laughter.)   

But I have enjoyed working with all of you. That does not, of course, mean that I’ve enjoyed every story that you have filed. But that’s the point of this relationship. You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you're supposed to be skeptics. You’re supposed to ask me tough questions. You're not supposed to be complimentary, but you're supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here. 

And you have done that. And you’ve done it, for the most part, in ways that I could appreciate for fairness even if I didn’t always agree with your conclusions. And having you in this building has made this place work better.  It keeps us honest.  It makes us work harder.  It made us think about how we are doing what we do and whether or not we're able to deliver on what’s been requested by our constituents.

And for example, every time you’ve asked “why haven’t you cured Ebola yet,” or “why is that still that hole in the Gulf,” it has given me the ability to go back to my team and say, 'will you get this solved before the next press conference?'  (Laughter.) 

I spent a lot of time in my farewell address talking about the state of our democracy. It goes without saying that essential to that is a free press. That is part of how this place, this country, this grand experiment in self-government has to work.  It doesn’t work if we don't have a well-informed citizenry.  And you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power.    

So America needs you, and our democracy needs you.  We need you to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress. And so my hope is, is that you will continue with the same tenacity that you showed us to do the hard work of getting to the bottom of stories and getting them right, and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves.  And to push this country to be the best version of itself.

I have no doubt that you will do so. I’m looking forward to being an active consumer of your work rather than always the subject of it.  I want to thank you all for your extraordinary service to our democracy." 

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