The Fix | Analysis
May 12, 2017 at 11:59 AM
Before we all freak out, let's recognize that President Trump was probably joking when he tweeted this on Friday morning:
Trump appears to have been trying to make a point, rather than seriously contemplating an end to White House media briefings. He had tweeted eight minutes earlier that "as a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!"
Translation: Quit whining about false information in the briefings, media! Would you rather have no briefings at all?
The short answer is no. But Trump's excuse for bad info is still bogus.
Let's look at a prominent example that likely contributed to Trump's Twitter outburst. This was an exchange between deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and ABC's Jonathan Karl on Wednesday:
KARL: Sarah, isn't it true that the president had already decided to fire James B. Comey, and he asked the Justice Department to put together the rationale for that firing?
KARL: When did he make the decision?
SANDERS: He made the decision for — the final decision to move forward with it was yesterday.
Naturally, Karl confronted Sanders later in the day.
"I asked you directly yesterday if the president had already decided to fire James B. Comey when he met with the deputy attorney general and attorney general, and you said no," Karl said. He noted that White House press secretary Sean Spicer had said essentially the same thing as Sanders.
"Why were so many people giving answers that just weren't correct?" Karl asked.
"I think it's pretty simple," Sanders replied. "I hadn't had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president to say — I'd had several conversations with him, but I didn't ask that question directly: 'Had you already made that decision?' I went off of the information that I had when I answered your question. I've since had the conversation with him, right before I walked on today, and he laid it out very clearly. He had already made that decision."
This doesn't add up. If Sanders didn't know the timing of Trump's decision because she hadn't inquired about it, she could have said "I don't know" when Karl initially asked whether the president had made up his mind before meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Instead, she answered with an unequivocal — and false — "no."
Trump tweeted that his spokespeople can't be right all the time because he is "a very active president with lots of things happening." That kind of explanation — mistakes are inevitable in fast-moving situations — might fly in some instances.
If a White House spokesman was providing updates on, say, a natural disaster, and an early statement later proved incorrect, journalists would likely understand. Details are often difficult to pin down in the midst of an emergency.
But the timing of Trump's decision is something the Trump White House was (obviously) in a position to know from the outset. There is really no excuse for getting it wrong.