Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders unloaded on the media Tuesday, after three CNN journalists resigned and the network retracted a report about ties between an associate of President Trump and Russia.
“I think that we have gone to a place where, if the media can't be trusted to report the news, then that's a dangerous place for America,” Sanders said during an on-camera press briefing. “And I think if that is the place certain outlets are going — particularly for the purpose of spiking ratings — and if that's coming directly from the top, I think that's even more scary.”
For perspective: Sanders's tirade was so forceful that a reporter for Breitbart News — perhaps the most Trump-loving, CNN-hating outlet in the White House press corps — objected to the attack.
“Does the president actually expect us not to report on stories of a foreign country trying to influence the presidential election?” Charlie Spiering asked.
Sanders unapologetically continued.
“News outlets get to go on, day after day, and cite unnamed sources, use stories without sources,” she claimed.
To say that news organizations publish reports “without sources” is an incredibly serious accusation. Fabrication is the ultimate journalistic sin, and reporters who commit it — people like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair — often become pariahs in the field.
News outlets do grant anonymity to some sources, often because people who provide sensitive information would face personal or professional danger if identified publicly.
The retracted CNN report that led to resignations was not fabricated; it was based on a single, unnamed source and was not properly verified before publication.
It was bad, no doubt, but it was certainly not evidence that reporters make things up on a regular basis, as Sanders suggested.
After several minutes, one journalist in the room seemingly couldn't take it anymore.
“Come on,” interjected Brian J. Karem, a reporter for the Sentinel newspapers in Maryland. “You're inflaming everybody right here, right now with those words.”
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. You have been elected to serve for four years, at least; there's no option other than that. We're here to ask you questions. You're here to provide the answers. And what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say, “See, once again, the president is right, and everybody else out here is fake media.” And everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.
“I disagree completely,” Sanders replied. “First of all, if anything has been inflamed, it's the dishonesty that often takes place by the news media.”
So goes the debate. One point by Karem is indisputable, however: Journalists can lose their jobs or their audiences when they get something wrong. Trump enjoys far better job security than the reporters who cover him.