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White House briefings are now shorter, rarer and ‘basically pointless’

Breaking down the differences between Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
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Three weeks after the White House said it would refer all future questions about Russia investigations to President Trump's personal legal team, press secretary Sean Spicer and company aren't saying much about anything else, either.

Spicer and his top deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have briefed reporters only seven times this month — and that's if you count Monday's off-camera session in which news outlets were barred from even airing live audio.

By virtually any measure (average briefing time, total briefing time, number of briefings) the Trump White House is on pace to set new lows in June and has fallen off sharply since March. I assembled four charts, measured in minutes, to illustrate the trend.

That's the quantitative decline. There has been a qualitative decline, too. When Spicer and Sanders do take questions from journalists, they increasingly offer nonanswers.

‘I have no idea’: The White House’s spokesmen aren’t speaking much these days

Monday on CNN, an exasperated Jim Acosta emerged from Spicer's off-camera briefing and reported that the event had been a waste of time.

“The White House press secretary is getting to a point, Brooke, where he's just kind of useless,” Acosta told anchor Brooke Baldwin. “You know, if he can't come out and answer the questions, and they're just not going to do this on camera or audio, why are we even having these briefings or these gaggles in the first place?”

“It's bizarre,” he continued. “I don't know what world we're living in right now, Brooke, where we're standing at the White House and they bring us into the briefing room here at the White House, and they won't answer these questions on camera or let us record the audio. … I don't understand why we covered that gaggle today, quite honestly, Brooke. If they can't give us the answers to the questions on camera or where we can record the audio, they're basically pointless, at this point.”

Must watch: @CNN's @Acosta says the White House is “stonewalling.” Briefings are “basically pointless at this point”
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) June 19, 2017

It is quite possible that Acosta's reaction is exactly what the White House is going for. Recall that Trump tweeted last month that “maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future press briefings.” I wrote at the time that he was probably not serious and, indeed, he has not followed through on the threat.

Yet by making the briefings shorter, rarer and “pointless,” Trump is achieving something close to the same effect as canceling them altogether.

A more optimistic theory is that a White House communications team in turmoil will eventually stabilize and start communicating better and more frequently. Bloomberg reported after Monday’s briefing that the White House might move Spicer into some kind of strategic role and name a new press secretary. Politico reported minutes later that Spicer is "leading a search for his own replacement at the briefing room podium" and that conservative radio host Laura Ingraham has interviewed for the job.

This post has been updated with the official briefing time from June 19.

Breaking down the differences between Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)