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Opinion Sarah Huckabee Sanders: ‘We support a free press, but …’

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Washington on Feb. 12, 2018. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Thanks to the anti-media policies and proclamations of the Trump White House, the U.S. fell a couple of spots on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. This prompted a question at Wednesday’s White House press briefing: Does press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledge the threat from the president to the First Amendment?

“I certainly would reject the idea that the president or this administration has halted freedom of the press. I think we’re one of the most accessible administrations that we’ve seen in decades. I think by my mere presence of standing up here and taking your questions unvetted is a pretty good example of freedom of the press, and I think it’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise,” said Sanders.

Yes, Sanders answers questions at press briefings. Yes, the president answers questions at ceremonial events and meetings at the White House and elsewhere. Yes, White House aides leak to the media. And yes, the president has engaged in a multiyear campaign — “fake news” is the White House’s official chyron — to strip the U.S. media of its standing in the country.

Opinion writers Molly Roberts, Max Boot, Erik Wemple and Dana Milbank discuss the decline of press freedom in the United States and around the world. (Video: The Washington Post)

A second round of scrutiny came Sanders’s way on this point, via CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who pressed her on whether she was claiming that the White House was a champion of press freedoms. That question fetched this response from Sanders:

We support a free press, but we also support a fair press, and I think that those things should go hand in hand. And there’s a certain responsibility by the press to report accurate information. I think a number of people in this room do that every single day, they do their very best to provide fair and accurate information. Certainly support that and that’s one of the reason I’m standing here taking your questions. And a lot of times taking your questions in a tone that’s completely unnecessary, unneeded and frankly doesn’t help further the conversation or help the American people get any more information in a better way, which is your job and my job, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

Bolding added to highlight a conjunction that has no place in an affirmation of free press, which is an unconditional sort of thing. And as for the matter of “fair and accurate information,” give us a break.

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