Presidents and press protocol

PRESIDENTS AND PRESS PROTOCOL…. It seems quite a few conservatives are unhappy about a video that’s making the rounds, showing the White House press corps failing to stand up when George W. Bush walked in the briefing room, and standing last week when Barack Obama entered the same room. The clip is evidence, they say, of the press showing more respect and deference for the current president than his predecessor.

As controversies go, this is pretty silly. For those of us who’ve watched a lot of White House press conferences over the years, it’s easy to remember plenty of instances in which the press corps stood for Bush — in the East Room, at the Rose Garden, etc. — as he approached the podium. (If you’re skeptical, go back and look at the transcripts of Bush’s press conferences, and notice all the times he started, “Please be seated.”) This is just the norm.

But why, then, does this video show the two presidents receiving different treatment. John Dickerson explained that it’s the room that matters.

There are different rules for the briefing room, though, which is the place both events on the video took place. It’s more informal…. It’s not that there is a no-standing policy, exactly, but more that the question is unresolved. The press didn’t stand for Bush in February but did when the president visited the briefing room for the last time. When he held press conferences in the Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building, the press did stand. […]

One reason reporters stay in their seats in the briefing room is that the space there is very tight. The cameramen and still photographers are in the back of the room and can’t get a clean shot of his few brief steps if the press is standing. (Listen to the cameras click wildly when Bush walks in.) The president is powerful and all, but it’s never wise to thwart the cameramen and still photographers. […]

Why, then, didn’t the members of the press stay in their seats when Obama walked in last Friday? Unlike the Bush planned press conference in February, Obama’s visit was a complete surprise (you hear fewer clicks because not every photographer is there), which meant the natural instinct to stand when a president enters the room may have kicked in as it did with Bush’s last visit.

There’s no real controversy here. Obama surprised the press corps when he entered the room for the first time last week, and it’s likely some of the newer members, caught off guard and unaware of the customs of the room, stood reflexively, prompting their colleagues to follow.

Those looking for evidence of bias will have to look elsewhere.