Fox News correspondent Ed Henry spotted a contradiction. On Sunday’s edition of “Fox & Friends,” he pressed White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley on how to reconcile first lady Melania Trump’s “Be Best” campaign for kindness with the comment of White House official Kelly Sadler in a meeting that Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) position on CIA director-nominee Gina Haspel doesn’t much matter because he’s “dying anyway.”
Cornered, Gidley responded, “I don’t know if the comment was even made or not. I can’t confirm it. I wasn’t in the meeting.”
There you have it: the reflex-response of any good Trump White House official. Always obfuscate, always cast doubt on the media’s bona fides, always refuse to confront the issue at hand. Too bad for Gidley that the story had long since progressed beyond the point at which he could sow doubt. “[Sadler] called Meghan McCain to apologize, so it sounds like she said it,” Henry told Gidley. The White House spox then shifted to his fall-back defense: “Look, those comments, whether they were made or not made, there were some reports in there obviously, too, about the internal workings of that meeting that just shouldn’t be made public. Listen, we work in the White House every day trying to make this country better and push forward the agenda this president was elected to push forth: Protecting the American people, rebuilding the economy. The president has done those types of things.”
And that fall-back defense is now official White House policy. In a briefing on Monday afternoon, principal White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah made this observation about the stakes of the Sadler thing:
What I will say is that when you work, in any work environment — you with your colleagues at NBC, or elsewhere — if you don’t — if you aren’t able, in internal meetings, to speak your mind or convey thoughts or say anything that you feel without feeling like your colleagues will betray you, that creates a very difficult work environment. I think anybody who works anywhere can recognize that.
Poor White House employees, inhabiting a “very difficult work environment.” If these folks can’t handle the pressures of working in the most consequential workplace in the world, there are plenty of opportunities in places where meetings and hallway encounters are of far less concern to the outside world. Like the self-employment sector, or perhaps the pest-control industry. In such settings, they can tell tasteless jokes without much fear that the New York Times, The Post and all the TV networks will organize editorial plans around them.
As “anybody who works anywhere,” the Erik Wemple Blog understands what Shah is suggesting. Look at the leaky media industry, for example. In recent months, the HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg has gotten her hands on videos of staff meetings at the New York Times and the Atlantic — both at times of controversy at the respective publications.
Readers can reach their own conclusions about just how newsworthy were the remarks of New York Times Editorial Page Editor James Bennet or the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates. But the leakers of these recordings clearly understood that there’s public interest in the workings of the New York Times and the Atlantic. Other news organizations will gladly publish a transcript of Bennet defending his section’s slip-ups or Goldberg and Coates discussing the work of quickly dismissed Atlantic writer Kevin Williamson.
Does that mean that folks at The Atlantic, the New York Times, and by extension The Post and other major media outlets, need to watch what they say at staff meetings? Could someone be recording a bit of video? Sure — deal with it. When you work at a place that claims to be working in the public interest, the public may just be interested.
Likewise with newsworthy outbursts at even low-key White House meetings. The Sadler quip, after all, pushes forward the public degradation of McCain launched by Trump himself in the early going of the 2016 presidential campaign. It was affirmed, too, by a guest on Fox Business last week. People need to know about the standards of decency that prevail — or that wither — inside the White House.
Trump, who blabs off the record every night with a representative of Fox News, tweeted:
Patriots and truth-tellers, is more like it. From the beginning of the Trump presidency, leakers have passed along newsworthy and accurate information, whether the topic is Michael Flynn, Rob Porter, the president’s legal binds, Kelly Sadler or many others. When there’s a new spasm of leaks, Trump often tweets in anger. When you’re a liar, the truth chafes.