Inside The White House: How Press Briefings In The West Wing Usually Work

Uncovering the creation of the White House press center.

The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, located in the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C., is the on-grounds quarters for the White House correspondents and news photographers since its construction in 1969-70.

So how does press access and coverage normally work inside the White House? Here is a brief rundown.

The West Wing of the White House
The West Wing of the White House. PHOTO LILY ADAMI

Press briefings occur almost every day, the majority of which take place in the main briefing room, which is generally referred to as the White House Press Briefing Room, or the James S. Brady room in the West Wing of the White House.

Authorized by President Richard M. Nixon, this room is named in honor of James S. Brady, White House Press Secretary, serving under President Ronald Reagan, from January 22, 1981 until January 20, 1989. In 1981, Brady became severely and permanently injured from a gunshot wound during the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

James S. Brady Plague in the James S. Brady room in the West Wing
James S. Brady Plague in the James S. Brady room in the West Wing. PHOTO LILY ADAMI

The wall plague honoring Brady reads “Mr. Brady served his nation with honor and distinction, strengthening the bond between government and press. May his courage and dedication continue to inspire all who work in this room and beyond.”

The construction of this room in honor of Brady symbolizes the culmination of decades of the increased presence of the press at the White House. Its construction was not only an acknowledgement that the press had become an integral part of presidency, but also an effort to provide a more casual alternative for communication between the West Wing and the White House press corps.

What is really interesting about this room is the architecture and engineering of its structure. The General Services Administration (GSA) worked in collaboration with the White House and Vosbeck, Kendrick & Redinger to complete the project, which, incorporated a one-story Briefing Room installed over President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s swimming pool in 1933. The room incudes two floors of work and broadcasting areas to the east of the pool, toward the White House proper.

 

The room not only symbolizers the relationship between the president and the press, but also holds symbolic and functional significance. In a symbolic sense, the press briefing room is located in one of the oldest parts of the White House, nestled between the residence and the West Wing. This also just shows the key role media and news has come taken to play as an intermediary between the public and the executive branch of the United States government. In a functional sense, this room also speaks to the evolution in technology, media, news, and reporting methods used by the press and the president throughout the twentieth century.

The Press Corps

Members of the press corps have had a dedicated workspace at the White House since the completion of the West Wing’s first iteration in 1902, but it wasn’t until President Theodore Roosevelt, to create the first designated office for correspondents at the White House. This step in press relations with presidents, provides some support for the common claim that Roosevelt was the first President to develop an idea of press management.

Roosevelt, aside from his innovation in this unprecedented step, would also often meet with correspondents directly in addition to daily briefings made by his press secretary. Around this time, the Washington correspondents headquartered in these offices, were allotted a dedicated room in the new Executive Office Building, which has since been replaced by the enlarged West Wing.

White House correspondents remained in this workspace through the beginning of the Hoover administration, in which they then moved across the lobby into larger quarters with new furniture. From Woodrow Wilson’s administration until World War II, open presidential meetings with credentialed members of the press corps, increasingly became a preferred form of communication.

Moving along, President John F. Kennedy made the milestone of holding the first press conference to be broadcasted live on television in 1961, and, because of that, the location and environment of press conferences became less fixed.

Although formal press briefings in Washington still took place, the flexibility offered by fast long-distance travel, mass communications, and mobile White House correspondents and photographers, contributed to a shift in how information passed between the West Wing and the press. This shift affected the design and intent of the White House Press Center in its later changes.

Press Briefing held by Press Secretary Jen Psaki in the James S. Brady room in the West Wing of the White House on Friday, October 1, 2021
Press Briefing held by Press Secretary Jen Psaki in the James S. Brady room in the West Wing of the White House on Friday, October 1, 2021. PHOTO LILY ADAMI

The Press Center has continued to ably serve its functions for nearly half a century and remains an essential tool of the modern presidency and media techniques.

*Lily attended a Press Briefing held by Press Secretary Jen Psaki in the James S. Brady room in the West Wing of the White House on Friday, October 1, 2021.

Lily Adami in the James S. Brady room
In the James S. Brady room. PHOTO LILY ADAMI

Lily Adami

Content Editor Associate

Having a silly and hard-working personality, Lily loves getting to know people and is passionate about human rights around the world. She is enthusiastic about other cultures, history, and international affairs. Lily has a deep appreciation for traveling, her favorite places include: Amsterdam, Amalfi Coast, and South Africa.

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