Watching the press secretary at Monday’s briefing, the words that came to mind were these: A new low.
Yes, a new rock bottom from the podium at the Trump White House press briefing.
And that is really saying something, given the lying-from-day-one reign of Sean Spicer, along with Sanders’s own fulsome history of dissembling, and the 10-day flameout of Anthony Scaramucci last summer.
But she did it. Time after time Monday, Sanders stuck to her pallid script, repeating without elaboration the words she said the president had told her to say, expressing his supposed support for domestic violence victims, although just days before he seemed much more sympathetic to those accused of abuse, specifically his deposed aide Rob Porter.
Support for Porter could be expressed in Trump’s own words, colorfully and directly spoken and tweeted. Support for abused women? Robotically, through Sanders.
“The president supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process,” was about all she could muster, no matter how the question was phrased. (To make matters worse, by Tuesday morning, Sanders’s sketchy depiction of the timeline on how the White House had dealt with the Porter allegations was contradicted by FBI Director Christopher Wray at a congressional hearing.)
Sanders’s Monday performance brought to mind a similar instance from mid-December: Trump had tweeted about Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), calling her “a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them).”
When asked in the briefing whether that didn’t sound an awful lot like sexual innuendo, Sanders turned the tables, telling the reporter, “Your mind is in the gutter.”
You might think that as one of the most visible women in the Trump administration, Sanders would bring some credibility — maybe even sympathy — to bear on subjects related to respect for women.
In fact, it seems to bring out the worst in her.
For Jay Rosen, New York University journalism professor, this is another reason to “send the interns.” The press briefings are so devoid of substance, so predictably filled with lies, that they aren’t a valid use of top reporters’ time.
Monday’s performance once again fulfilled what he tweeted was the “brand promise” of the Trump administration when dealing with the press: “Watch: we will put these people down for you.”
The briefing room, as he sees it, is nothing more than a theater for the fulfillment of that promise: “The more the press does the job [it] has traditionally done, the better the put-down script becomes.”
To state the obvious: Holding powerful people and institutions accountable is the chief role of journalism in this country, and a crucial one.
Even the American citizens who are most distrustful and critical of the press want journalists to carry out this function, according to every public opinion poll.
White House press briefings have never been the best place for that. They have always been spin chambers, but have served a limited purpose.
Now, they may be something much worse.
With her dismissive gestures, her curled-lip sneers, her ready insults and guilt-free lies, Sanders is a conduit — a tool — for Trump’s own abusive relationship with journalists.
Does it really make sense to keep coming back for more?