White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who works for President Trump, doesn’t like the media’s tone these days. “I’ve never been attacked more, questioned more. I was called a liar by a major network in an official statement, I’ve been called outrageous things on air, and it goes unquestioned, no pushback,” said Sanders during a panel discussion Monday night hosted by Frank Sesno and convened by George Washington University’s School of Media & Public Affairs.
Hostility from the media is a theme to which Sanders returned a couple of times during the nearly two-hour event. “I do think that there is a greater sense of hostility that I’ve seen in this administration than in previous, and I think that you see that reflected in the numbers, in the coverage,” said Sanders, who cited a study showing that 93 percent of the coverage was negative and 7 percent positive. Indeed, studies have shown overwhelmingly negative coverage of Trump in the mainstream media. “If you compare that to the first nine months of the the Obama administration, it was 40-60, so for people to pretend like there isn’t a greater sense of hostility toward this administration, I think, would be to ignore real facts.”
The “real facts” also yield a list of Trump administration accomplishments: attack tweets, turnover among senior advisers, failure after failure in Congress, stupid fights with a Gold Star family and bogus claim after bogus claim.
The problem, says Sanders, can manifest itself in tones and attitudes: “It’s not even the nature of the question, it’s the way a question is asked,” said the press secretary. “So often I feel like certainly the question always comes from place of accusation instead of actually asking, looking for information. It’s more like, ‘You’re a horrible person, please tell us why.’ ”
Such complaints have an all-too-easy rebuttal, one that can be mustered by looking at the list of people and institutions that Trump has insulted on Twitter. Hint: A good number of them are media outlets and reporters. Think about this: The woman who’s complaining about tone works for the fellow who called media outlets “the enemy of the American people.”
Fellow panelist Glenn Thrush, a White House reporter for the New York Times, pointed out, “President Trump has made battling the press a centerpiece of his entire political career. … He needs an opponent. … The political press is his central, omnipresent opponent.”
Moving away from tonal concerns, Sanders pledged that her office is working on an initiative to churn out more on-the-record information. She abhorred the media’s use of anonymous sources, saying that she and her staff cannot “compete” against such folks, who may not know all they claim to know. “I don’t think that we can be asked to constantly be out in the open, be transparent and to do something so forward-leaning and always on the record when we’re constantly having to compete with anonymous sources that weren’t in the room, that aren’t part of the process and can frankly make up anything in the world they want to because we can’t prove a negative,” she said. The problem, she continued, stemmed not so much from the major outlets but from the small fry. “Now anybody with a computer can be a journalist,” lamented Sanders, who said she’s forced to “juggle” between real journalism and non-real journalism.
Sanders’s pledge earned applause from the audience.