Erik Wemple

The vileness coming from Sarah Sanders


White House press secretary Sarah Sanders speaks at a news briefing at the White House Oct. 3. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Media critic

What could possibly be worse than a president who attacks the media as a matter of routine? Well, possibly, a White House press secretary who embraces the travail of excusing those attacks.

To do so, the press secretary must ignore facts, ignore reality, ignore humanity — and tweet.

The vileness of this grim work surfaced on Wednesday after CNN evacuated its New York bureau shortly after 10 a.m. due to a suspicious package. Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto were covering reports of potential explosive devices intended for Democratic figures when … .

To this moment, there’s no confirmed information on the person(s) or the motives behind these acts of terror. Even in the absence of certainty about the perpetrator, though, a good move is to express support and empathy toward the people and organizations that were targeted. Here, Sarah Sanders fell short.

Notice an omission? That would be CNN, though Sanders later issued an update noting that the White House’s sentiments “certainly” include CNN:

On CNN’s own air, commentator David Gregory lashed out: “You had the presidential spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, in her first response to this, condemn the attacks against the political figures. But to say nothing about the fact that CNN was targeted? That is outrageous from an administration and from a president that specifically targets and attacks CNN; that is outrageous and is revealing of what their mindset is if that’s how they react.”

In a statement from the White House, first lady Melania Trump deplored the “attempted attacks on President Clinton, President Obama, their families, public officials, individuals and organizations.” “Organizations” like, say, CNN?

Those are deplorable and ghastly omissions. Here we had a White House, in the face of terror, asserting that some U.S. citizens deserved its full protection, consideration and empathy. And that certain other citizens — journalists-cum-taxpayers-cum-patriots — did not. It was another of those shocked-but-not-surprised moments, considering that Trump himself presides over rallies at which his followers chant, “CNN sucks!“; considering that the network’s chief White House correspondent faces cruelty and taunting from the Trump faithful; considering that an anti-CNN fundraising appeal from the Trump campaign hit email boxes as CNN was scrambling to cover its own evacuation; considering that CNN White House reporter Kaitlin Collins was barred from access to an event over “inappropriate” questions; considering that Trump shouted down CNN’s Kaitlan Collins over her attempt to ask questions about the Brett M. Kavanaugh confirmation process (an ABC News reporter received similar treatment); considering that Trump called CNN a “fraud” in a “Fox & Friends” chat; considering that Sanders once snarked at Acosta, “I know it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences“; considering that Trump called CNN’s Don Lemon “the dumbest man on television“; considering that Trump tweeted a video of himself manhandling “CNN“; considering numerous other slights, insults and nasty tweets.

Such moments provide context for the statement released by CNN on Wednesday from Worldwide President Jeff Zucker:

To which, Sanders retorted on Wednesday:

What great skill at projecting: Sanders and her boss have by now spent years dividing the Trump coalition from a specific brand, CNN, whose reporting has covered the full incompetence of the Trump administration. Has a U.S. president ever before unleashed as unjustified a crusade against a single company? In an appearance Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends,” Sanders said, “I think it is absolutely disgraceful that one of the first public statements we heard from CNN yesterday was to put the blame and the responsibility of this despicable act on the president and on me personally, when the person that is responsible for this is the person who made and created and put these suspicious packages in the hands and in the arms of innocent American citizens.”

In other remarks, Sanders told a CNN reporter, “Yesterday, the very first thing that the president did was condemn the violence. The very first thing that your network did was come out and accuse the president of being responsible for it. That is not okay.” On CNN’s air, Sciutto took issue: “What the press secretary of the White House just said there is not true. That’s not the first thing we did as this happened. We reported the news, in fact. And Poppy and I can attest to that because we were on the air live reporting the news as it happened.”

What Sanders also refuses to acknowledge is that the CNN statement needn’t have been issued on the afternoon of Oct. 24. It could well have been issued in late August, when news broke of the arrest of a California man for making death threats against the Boston Globe while using the rhetoric of President Trump. It could well have been issued in midsummer, after Acosta was taunted at a Florida rally. It could well have been issued at any of the numerous moments when Trump drummed up and smiled upon anti-CNN rhetoric.

Neither the president nor Sanders cares to heed the warnings from Zucker, or from anyone else, for that matter. They appear more interested in laundering those warnings for political point-scoring. In a chat earlier this week with CNN’s Brian Stelter, New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger reflected on his own words to Trump in a private meeting: “He certainly can’t say he wasn’t warned that his words have consequences,” Sulzberger said. That message goes for Sanders as well.

Read more:

Erik Wemple: As CNN evacuates, ‘preprogrammed’ Trump campaign email blasts network

Erik Wemple: Maybe Megyn Kelly wasn’t all that

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