Reporters came to Wednesday's White House press briefing — the first since new communications director Anthony Scaramucci lifted a ban on TV cameras — armed with tough questions about President Trump's Twitter campaign against his own attorney general and his decision to bar transgender people from serving in the military.
So what did incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders do? She devoted the first six minutes of the session to totally unrelated subjects that showed Trump in the best possible light.
First, Sanders announced that Trump had donated his second-quarter salary, $100,000, to the Education Department, then she called up Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to extol the wonderful things the president's contribution will fund.
“I want to start by saying how grateful I am to the president for this generous gift,” DeVos said, before revealing that the money will go toward hosting a camp focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
Then Sanders returned to the podium and offered “a little reminder of why we're all here every day, which I imagine for most of us is because we love our country and want to make it better.”
She continued into a personal reflection on becoming the first mother to serve as White House press secretary.
“That says less about me than it does about this president,” Sanders contended.
Finally, she read a letter from a Trump-adoring 9-year-old named Dylan and said that such readings will be regular additions to news briefings from now on.
“You're my favorite president,” the child wrote to Trump. “I like you so much that I had a birthday about you. My cake was the shape of your hat.”
This was a smart strategy for Sanders, though journalists were not thrilled by her avoidance of the news of the day.
This is a special kind of stone-walling.
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) July 26, 2017
You can feel like this is bs. But a WH advisor actually told me they should do this. Talk to the voter watching TV, not reporters ¯_(ツ) _/¯ https://t.co/0Z1L8TwbAH
— Adrian Carrasquillo (@Carrasquillo) July 26, 2017
Seems an interesting view of what a press briefing should be https://t.co/951y2xpvfd
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) July 26, 2017
Because Skype calls weren't enough, @SHSanders45 now just reading fan mail at briefings. Cute she's answering 9 y/o's questions, though.
— Zack Ford (@ZackFord) July 26, 2017
Irking reporters was precisely the point — and a prime example of why, as I wrote Monday, putting the briefings back on television is a smart move by the White House. The first six minutes of Wednesday's briefing were an infomercial for the president, carried live on every cable news channel.
What's more, the White House and its allies can point to journalists' reactions, like the ones above, and perpetuate the idea that the media is full of Trump-hating cynics. Sean Hannity's next monologue practically writes itself: Why don't these alt-left, destroy-Trump hacks love kids and moms and America?
When she did take questions, Sanders quickly ran out of patience for questions about Trump's ban on transgender service members. And though she had details in her response to Dylan, including the number of gallons of paint it would take to coat the exterior of the White House residence (300), she offered few about the ban and its implementation.
“Guys, I really don’t have anything else to add on that topic,” she said. “As I do, I’ll keep you posted. But if those are the only questions we have, I’m going to call it a day. But if we have questions on other topics, I’ll be happy to take them.”
The first televised briefing of the Sanders-Scaramucci era (not counting their introductory remarks on Friday) sent a clear message that the White House plans to use these sessions to Trump's advantage in ways that reporters probably won't like.