White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Media critic

In a rare White House press briefing on Monday afternoon, CNN Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta decided to interrogate White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on a couple of very predictable tweets from President Trump:

Citing a former Department of Homeland Security spokesman’s dissent from the president’s sentiments, Acosta asked Sanders why the White House didn’t reserve “enemy of the people for people who are actually the enemy of the United States, rather than journalists?”

In a not very clever dodge, Sanders attempted to suggest that the president uses laser precision in his media attacks. “The president’s not referencing all media. He’s talking about the growing amount of fake news in the country. The president’s calling that out,” she said.

Then Acosta demanded that Sanders specify which outlets qualify as “enemy of the people.” “I’m not going to walk through a list, but I think those individuals probably know who they are,” she said. Is CNN among those individuals? asked Acosta. “I don’t think it’s necessarily specific to a general, broad generalization of a full outlet. At times I think there’s individuals that the president would be referencing,” replied Sanders, whose bumbling response indicated that she couldn’t particularly defend this presidential position.

“If the president is going to say the fake news media are the enemy of the people,” pressed Acosta again, “and if you’re going to stand there and continue to say there are some journalists, some news outlets in this country that meet that characterization, shouldn’t you have the guts, Sarah, to state which outlets, which journalists are the enemy of the people?”

Sanders replied, “I think it’s irresponsible of a news organization, like yours, to blame responsibility of a pipe bomb that was not sent by the president — not just blame the president, but blame members of his administration for those heinous acts. I think that is outrageous and I think it’s irresponsible.”

Boom. When pushed, Sanders didn’t point to individual journalists or repeat her weak deflections. She cited CNN.

It seems Sanders is still smarting from a sequence of events that unfolded last week. CNN evacuated its offices in New York on Wednesday after receiving word that a mail bomb had targeted the operation. Sanders later sent out a tweet acknowledging other parties — mainly Democratic politicians — who had been targeted by the mail bomber, but not CNN. (She later issued another tweet bringing CNN into the fold). In a brief statement on the matter, Melania Trump couldn’t be bothered to say “CNN,” instead noting that “organizations” had been singled out.

Later that day, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker issued a statement that — contra Sanders — did not “blame the president”:

On Friday, authorities arrested Cesar Sayoc and charged him with sending the mail bombs. On his white van, Sayoc had plastered a sticker declaring, “CNN Sucks,” echoing a chant heard at Trump rallies across the land — chants in which the president commonly basks.

Against the backdrop of the past few days’ news, Zucker’s statement has aged with grace: The president refuses to acknowledge his own impact, despite evidence that the impact is baleful. And so he continues with his clueless, scapegoating tweets.

On Monday came the news that officials had intercepted another suspicious package intended for CNN. Yet Sanders remains fixated on a 100 percent accurate CNN statement from last week. News events of the past week have produced a lot of victims. Sanders and Trump are not among them, though you’d never know it from watching a White House briefing.

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