Brian Karem, the reporter who confronted deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during a news briefing, said he did so because he’s had enough of the Trump administration’s bullying of the media.
“I don’t like bullies and I don’t like the entire situation of the press and free speech being castigated for no other reason than we either get stories wrong — which happens, and it should be then responsibly corrected — or because we report news the president doesn’t like — which seems to happen even more often than getting stories wrong,” Karem, executive editor of two Maryland newspapers, wrote in a column explaining his outburst during the Tuesday briefing.
Sanders was in the middle of blasting the media, specifically the use of anonymous sources and the now-retracted CNN story on Russia ties with the Trump campaign, when Karem interjected.
Here’s part of the tense exchange:
KAREM: Come on, you’re inflaming everybody right here, right now with those words. This administration has done that as well. Why in the name of heavens — any one of us, right, are replaceable. And any one of us, if we don’t get it right, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel or not read us.
SANDERS: I think —
KAREM: You have been elected to serve for four years at least. There’s no option other than that.
SANDERS: I think —
KAREM: We’re here to ask you questions.
Karem said he attended the news briefing to ask a question about health care. But it later became apparent to him that the on-camera briefing was to bash the press, he told The Washington Post.
“We all know in this business people who’ve been injured trying to get the news, people who’ve died trying to get the news. I was jailed trying to get the news,” he said. “To just have us all [be called] enemies of the people, fake news … I’m tired of being bullied.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the briefing, Sanders went on a largely uninterrupted tirade against the media, slamming CNN in particular for the network’s Russia story that resulted in a retraction and subsequent resignation of three journalists. She also encouraged people to watch a video that purportedly showed a CNN employee criticizing the network, while acknowledging that she did not know whether the footage is accurate or not.
Sanders’s criticism of the media ate up nearly five minutes of a 17-minute question-and-answer session, The Post reported. Before that, reporters sat through a 40-minute briefing by Energy Secretary Rick Perry about the White House’s “energy week.”
The briefing also was reportedly a half-hour late. White House press secretary Sean Spicer was scheduled to lead the on-camera briefing, but Sanders subbed for him instead.
Because of all of that, it appears, Karem’s anger boiled over.
“You’re here to provide the answers, and what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at this and say, ‘See, once again, the president’s right and everybody else out here is fake media,'” he told Sanders. “And everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.”
In response, Sanders circled back to the media’s “dishonesty.”
“And I think it’s outrageous for you to accuse me of inflaming a story when I was simply trying to respond to his question,” she told Karem, as she moved on to the next question.
In his column published on Playboy Magazine where Karem is also a contributor, he compared the Trump administration’s “half-truths and lies” to “day-old cookies at a bake sale” that the White House is selling to the public.
He slammed the White House for the briefing’s delay.
“I think it’s incredibly rude to always keep 100 people waiting. Just make time for the briefing later — I’m fine with that,” he wrote. “But please, as my Southern parents taught me, if you commit to be somewhere on time — then do it. This administration rarely does.”
But he also defended Sanders and Spicer who, Karem said, have tried to some extent to be open while working for a president who lambastes the press regularly on Twitter.
“The fact is: I like Sarah Sanders. I like Sean Spicer. I like most of the people I’ve met who work in this administration,” he wrote. “They’re personable and, as far as I can tell — with a few notable exceptions — decent people.”
Just the day before, CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta confronted Spicer about cameras during news briefings. The White House has, at times in the past few days, barred cameras and live audio broadcasts, breaking a long-standing tradition of on-camera briefings.
“Maybe you should turn the cameras on, Sean. Why don’t we turn the cameras on? Why don’t we turn the cameras on? Why not turn the cameras on, Sean? There is a room, the lights are on,” Acosta asked during Monday’s briefing.
Spicer, appearing to ignore Acosta’s barrage of questions but answering similar ones from other reporters, said only that the White House “will continue to mix things up.”
“Some days we’ll have them, some days we won’t,” Spicer said about cameras.
Karem’s confrontation with Sanders seems to have resulted in a newfound fame among admirers — and haters.
“I don’t want this to be about me. The issue is respecting the press,” he said, adding that the attention on him will be short lived. “I guess today, I’m the flavor of the moment, and it’s only momentary and the flavor will change tomorrow.”
Here’s a sampling of some of the social media reactions about Karem’s outburst:
Abby Phillip contributed to this story.