Newly named White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Friday that he wants to “de-escalate” tensions between the Trump administration and the media, but he offered little evidence to suggest that relations will improve.
Though he struck a softer tone than other White House spokesmen, Scaramucci would not make promises on points that matter to journalists.
Will the White House resume regular, televised briefings?
Will President Trump, who has not held a full news conference in five months, finally do so?
“I'll talk to him, absolutely.”
Will Scaramucci always tell the truth?
“I'm going to do the best I can.”
These are not the kinds of answers that inspire confidence.
That last question, posed by ABC's Jonathan Karl, should sound familiar. This was the full exchange:
KARL: There's been a question about credibility — some of the things that've been said in this room. Let me ask you a variation of what I asked Sean Spicer on his first day: Is it your commitment to, to the best of your ability, give accurate information truthfully from that podium?
SCARAMUCCI: I mean I sort of feel like I don't even have to answer that question. I hope you can feel that, just from my body language, that's the kind of person I am. I'm going to do the best I can.
This was the original back and forth between Karl and Spicer on Jan. 23:
KARL: Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium, and will you pledge never to knowingly [say] something that is not factual?
SPICER: It is. It’s an honor to do this, and yes. I believe that we have to be honest with the American people.
Scaramucci's response was even less reassuring than Spicer's.
On the matter of televised briefings, Scaramucci joked that if Spicer's replacement as press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “supplies hair and makeup, I will consider it.” Scaramucci won't be leading the briefings, however; he will work mostly behind the scenes, and Sanders will handle the Q&A sessions.
“The answer is we may” allow filming, he said. “I have to talk to the president. I like consulting with the president before I make decisions like that.” He added that Sanders will be involved in the decision, too.
Tone certainly matters, and Scaramucci's seems more measured than that of Spicer, who had served as press secretary and communications director since Mike Dubke's departure in May.
“I've never been a journalist, but I have played a journalist on television,” Scaramucci reminded reporters. “You know, I used to host ‘Wall Street Week’ for Fox Business, and so I have empathy for journalists, in terms of sometimes they're going to get stories wrong. But I sort of don't like the fake news, and if you said to me that there's some media bias out there — if you want me to be as candid as I would like to be with you guys — there feels like there's a little bit of media bias. And, so, what we hope we can do is de-escalate that and turn that around and let's get the message from the president get out there to the American people.”
That might be the gentlest accusation of “fake news” ever. But it's still an accusation of fake news. And Scaramucci did not commit to steps that might change the dynamic between the White House and the media in a meaningful way.