During President Barack Obama’s last full year in office, former White House press secretary Josh Earnest stayed busy. From Jan. 1, 2016, until Dec. 31 of that year, Earnest and his deputies held 143 press briefings and 45 less-formal press gaggles, running 11,826 minutes in total. That’s more than 197 hours — more than eight continuous days — in which Earnest or another administration official spoke to and answered questions from the press.
Over the last four months of the Obama administration alone, Earnest and his team spent about 2,803 minutes before the press in 41 briefings and gaggles.
That’s slightly more time than press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her team have spent with the press in the nearly 13 months she’s held that position.
Using data from the American Presidency Project and the White House’s posted transcripts, we determined the days since the beginning of 2016 on which there were briefings or gaggles, who led them, how long they lasted (thanks to timestamps on the transcripts) and any other administration officials who might have participated. (Why does that matter? Because time spent in a press briefing with the head of, say, Health and Human Services answering questions is time that the press secretary isn’t spending answering questions about the president.)
This is what the pattern of press briefings looks like over that period. The tenures of the three press secretaries who have served over that period — Earnest, Sean Spicer and Sanders — are indicated by different colors.
Just a quick visual look makes clear how different Earnest’s approach to briefing the press is than Sanders’s. In 2016, Earnest had administration officials join him in 22 briefings. A week into August, Sanders has already done so 16 times this year. But Earnest’s press shop also held 188 briefings or gaggles, meaning that he had an official on-hand for about 12 percent of them. Sanders and her team have only held 67 briefings and gaggles this year, meaning that 24 percent have featured someone besides her answering questions from the press — twice as frequently as in 2016.
That drop in the number of briefings and gaggles has been consistent since Sanders took over for Spicer last July. In eight of the 12-plus months she’s held the position, the number of press briefings or gaggles was equal to or lower than the slowest month in 2016 (also August, the month that presidents often take vacations). Before Spicer resigned, his pace was more in line with what Earnest had established as the norm.
But not only is Sanders holding fewer briefings and gaggles, they’re shorter. On average, briefings and gaggles under her tenure have been about 23 minutes long. In 2016, they averaged an hour.
The result is that Sanders and her team have spent far less time in briefings and gaggles for the press than was seen during Earnest’s final year.
In fact, during Spicer’s six months on the job, he and his team totaled more time in briefings and gaggles than Sanders held in the year after he left. In order for her to match Spicer, Sanders will need to hold 10 more briefings at her average length of 24 minutes each. At a rate of one briefing or gaggle every 3.3 days, she won’t hit that mark until early September.
On the one hand, some might say that Sanders seems to be generally uninterested in speaking with the press or in providing a formal, public outlet for the media to ask questions of the White House.
On the other hand, there is no other hand.