Can You Hear Me Now?

Journalists spent most of a half hour cooling their well-worn heels on a conference call phone line with Trump Administration officials Friday afternoon as the Administration tried to begin a background briefing on Iran and the President's signal Friday that he would waive the Iran sanctions.

In the “no good deed goes unpunished department”--the White House does not have to hold background briefings--while such calls usually begin in listen-only mode (with journalists unmuting in the Q&A portion), the eventually-over-200 journalists on the line were connected un-muted instead.

What ensued was a babble of background noise, conversations, and extraneous sounds, punctuated by entreaties from the call's hosts that everybody mute their phones using the familiar *6. But that was a noisy horse impossible to get back into the barn.

Many did hear and heed the call, with the rapid fire string of "mute" tones/clicks sounding a little, and appropriately, like the call of the cuckoo.

But some clearly did not hear that request over the general din and others were joining in on a rolling basis and missed it.

"This is the State Department, can you add this line as a host," said one voice.

"Has the call started?"

"Operator, it is too noisy and I can't hear anything."

Those were all variations on a common theme delivered in various accents given the worldwide interest in the Iran nuclear deal.

One wag eventually opined that the White House "can't even F-ing run a conference call right."

That was countered by what sounded like a frustrated host saying: "It's the media who don't know how to conduct themselves. Mute your phones," followed later by a more frustrated sounding: "If everyone had common sense and half a brain and followed instructions once in their lives...For the last time, kindly mute your phone."

Eventually the babble stopped after the AT&T operator said, officially: "All participants are now in listen-only mode."

But that also appeared to apply to the hosts, so there was silence for what seemed like several minutes before the hosts returned to inform the journalists that they would now no longer be able to ask questions on the call, "due to technical difficulties," though they "could follow up with e-mails to the NSC."

And so it goes, or doesn’t as the case may be.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.