Opinion writer

One can only marvel at the ease with which White House press secretary Sarah Sanders abuses the people in front of her, deflects blame and outright lies. At Monday’s press briefing, her entire bag of tricks was on display.

With reporters sitting right there, she echoed and defended President Trump’s accusation that the press is “the enemy of the people.” In the wake of pipe bombs sent to CNN and the murder of The Post’s Global Opinions columnist Jamal Khashoggi, she broadly regurgitates the Stalinist accusation that harsh coverage or insufficiently glowing coverage takes reporters out of the body politic, putting them in the same camp as actual foreign enemies. She even adds her own Orwellian don’t-believe-what-you-see touch in this exchange:

Q    Sarah, the President said over the weekend that he could tone up his rhetoric.  What does he mean by that?  And does he have any concern at all that his words could inspire or provoke troubled people to do awful things.

SANDERS:  Certainly the President wants, in moments where our country is hurting, like we’ve seen in the last several days, to find ways to bring our country together.  And we’ve seen him do exactly that. . . .

Q    But he’s also harshly attacked some of the very people that received those pipe bombs, and this morning suggesting that the news media is responsible for the anger in the country. How does he do that when, in the case of the pipe bomber, this was somebody who went to Trump rallies, this is somebody who had a van covered with attacks on the media and praise for the President? . . .

SANDERS:  Jonathan, the very first thing that the President did was condemn the attacks, both in Pittsburgh and in the pipe bombs.  The very first thing the media did was blame the President and make him responsible for these ridiculous acts.  That is outrageous that that would be the very first reaction of so many people across this country. . . .

Q: But why is the President suggesting it’s the news media?  The President is the one placing blame here.

SANDERS:  No, the President is not placing blame.

Caught lying (Trump did blame the media), she retreated to attacking the media. (“The very first thing that the media did was condemn the President, and go after and try to place blame not just on the President, but everybody that works in this administration.”)

She also threw in her best imitation of Sen. Joe McCarthy:

Q    Since you mentioned that, the President said this morning, “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly.”  Can you state for the record which outlets that you and the President regard as the enemy of the people?

SANDERS:  I’m not going to walk through a list, but I think those individuals probably know who they are.

Q    Would that include my outlet, which received a bomb last week?

SANDERS:  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 . . .

Q    So you’re not going to state for the record then — I mean, if the President is going to say the fake news media are the enemy of the people, and if you’re going to stand there and continue to say that 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:  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.

In other words, you’re not all traitors, but the president will keep saying so since traitors know they are traitors. (Perhaps she will take her McCarthy imitation one step further by holding up and waving a list of “enemies.”)

Let me start with a suggestion. If Sanders continues to call the press the enemy of the people, the White House press corps should walk out and end coverage of the briefing. She has admitted it’s a smear (only some of them are enemies!), and yet she propagates an accusation that influenced a bombing attempt against a news outlet and is used as justification for violence against journalists around the world. She cannot claim this White House respects the First Amendment when she delegitimizes the press on a daily basis. It’s unacceptable — and, it turns out, dangerous.

Beyond that, her constant “whataboutism” — the media called out the president’s rhetoric, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said something mean, etc. — should be directly challenged.

First, Trump’s petulant child act is getting old. He has been caught red-handed, so he blames others for real or imagined offenses. There is no excuse for him to debase his office or hide behind others’ comments. (Why does he think Waters or CNN or any of his targets give him a pass to abuse his position?)

Moreover, Sanders’s comparisons are entirely inapt. “Enemy of the people” is not on the same moral plane as critical coverage. Parroting conspiracy theories that put Jewish billionaire George Soros behind the migrant caravan headed north to the U.S.-Mexico border and the protests against Brett M. Kavanaugh isn’t equivalent, frankly, to anything that those on the list of bombing targets have said. And finally, Trump’s rhetoric has already inspired action. What more proof is needed that he must be held to a higher standard precisely because of the power of his office?

Read more:

Erik Wemple: Sarah Sanders effectively proclaims CNN is the enemy of the people

Dana Milbank: Hasn’t Trump suffered enough?

Erik Wemple: The vileness coming from Sarah Sanders

Erik Wemple: ‘No one is perfect’: Here’s how Sarah Huckabee Sanders excuses Trump’s conduct