Since you generally can’t watch White House news briefings these days, you might think you’ve been missing farcical question-and-answer sessions in which President Trump’s spokesmen can always avoid a tough inquiry by calling on the reporter from Breitbart News.
You would be wrong.
The briefings are becoming farcical, all right — White House press secretary Sean Spicer and his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, often say they don’t know the answers to basic questions — but Breitbart is not the problem. In fact, the pro-Trump website’s White House correspondent, Charlie Spiering, seems determined to hold the president accountable for promises he made to the voters who supported him (and who read Breitbart).
On Monday, for example, Spiering questioned Spicer about the Trump administration’s decision to grant 15,000 additional visas to low-wage seasonal workers from foreign countries.
“How does that not conflict with the president’s ‘hire American’ message?” Spiering asked.
In May, Spiering and Spicer got into a tense back-and-forth over Trump’s failure to secure funding in this year’s budget for the southern border wall that was a centerpiece of his campaign. Spicer touted a short-term project that will replace about 40 miles of fencing with steel bollards or other barriers, but Spiering was unimpressed.
“So that’s the wall the president promised?” he asked incredulously.
In April, after Trump ordered a military strike on a Syrian airfield, Spiering asked Spicer to define the “Trump doctrine” on foreign policy. Spicer replied by saying that the United States is “not just going to become the world’s policeman,” echoing the noninterventionist message on which Trump campaigned.
“The action in Syria fits in that doctrine?” Spiering shot back.
To casual observers, it can appear that Breitbart News, which plunged into the tank for Trump during the White House race, is incapable of criticizing the president. I said in a Facebook Live chat Monday that Trump could mean-tweet its late founder Andrew Breitbart’s mother and the website would probably defend him. I’d like to add that the site would likely accuse the “fake news” media of overreacting to the tweet.
Yet on certain policy matters, Breitbart News is monitoring Trump’s follow-through and occasionally calling him out for not delivering what his base expected. Though mocking the rest of the media is embedded in Breitbart’s DNA, Spiering seemed to defend CNN (yes, really) when Trump intensified his criticism of the network last month.
Trump blasted CNN on Twitter on June 27, even after the network retracted a flawed report and accepted the resignations of three journalists.
“Why isn’t their response good enough for the president?” Spiering asked Sanders during a briefing that day, noting that the subject of CNN’s report, former Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci, had accepted the network’s apology and even praised CNN for a “classy move.”
When Sanders responded by decrying what she called “the constant barrage of fake news” about ties between Trump’s team and Russia, Spiering followed up.
“Does the president actually expect us not to report on stories of a foreign country trying to influence the presidential election?” he asked.
Spiering did not respond to a request for comment.
Some of Trump’s media boosters — most notably Sean Hannity — remain totally committed to sycophancy. Others, however, are watching to see whether Trump walks the talk in office. Ann Coulter, whom Breitbart often publishes, is a prominent example.
As Trump clings to his core supporters amid a historically bad stretch of approval ratings, it is worth watching the reporter who best represents the voice of those supporters in the White House briefing room. That reporter is Spiering, and he is not giving Trump a pass.