President Donald Trump’s new press secretary, Sean Spicer, greeted reporters on Thursday with a “Happy Groundhog Day,” and followed it with a White House briefing that clocked in at just 25 minutes. The next day, he ended his briefing after 30 minutes.
The back-to-back compact sessions led to some grumbling among the press corps that the briefings are becoming unusually short under the new administration. Another Spicer briefing on January 25 lasted just 28 minutes.
Spicer’s had a tough start to his new role – Saturday Night Live even went after him in a searing skit featuring Melissa McCarthy.
Spicer did have three appearances that topped the 40-minute mark, and two ran nearly an hour or more – including an extended appearance following his fiery January 21 statement about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd.
That said, even if White House briefings in the era of Trump start regularly wrapping up quickly, is a half hour really unusually short? Is the criticism justified?
Turns out, not so much. In fact an analysis of nearly 1,700 past briefings shows it would be less a break from the past, than a return to it. Obama-era briefings were indeed much longer – they grew in length every year starting in 2012. But briefings by press secretaries during George W. Bush’s administration averaged only about a half hour.
CNN examined nearly 1,700 solo press secretary briefings dating back to 2001. Obama’s briefers as a whole averaged about an hour for their sessions during his presidency. The most recent holder of the job, Josh Earnest, spent longer at the podium than any other press secretary this century.
Briefings lasted an average of only 32 minutes during the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency.
The champion of short briefings under Bush was Dana Perino, who averaged just 21 minutes. The most long-winded was Ari Fleischer, who averaged 37 minutes.
By contrast, Obama’s least vociferous press secretary, Robert Gibbs, still averaged more than Fleischer, clocking in at 49 minutes. Jay Carney was a few notches up at 51 minutes, and Josh Earnest crushed the competition by holding briefings lasting an average of nearly 70 minutes.
Spicer’s time in the White House briefing room has just begun, and he may very well start trending toward longer sessions. But if he doesn’t, and shorter briefings become frequent, Trump’s team would simply be returning to lengths seen under the last Republican president.