President Trump devoted part of his appearance at a Friday night rally for Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) to cussing out NFL players who refuse to stand during the national anthem, then tweeted about the same subject more than a dozen times before his spokeswoman briefed reporters on Monday.
Yet when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to the podium, she suggested it is the media's fault — not the president's — that a debate about athletes' protests suddenly overshadowed such matters as Hurricane Maria's devastation of Puerto Rico and Senate Republicans' efforts to pass a health-care bill.
How, asked Jon Decker of Fox News Radio, does Trump's opining on demonstrations by football players help advance his legislative agenda? The question led to this exchange:
SANDERS: It really doesn’t take that long to type out 140 characters, and this president’s very capable of doing more than one thing at a time and more than one thing in a day.
DECKER: But you see, Sarah, how it’s taken up so much oxygen, right? When the president speaks about that particular issue, you see how the majority of questions that have been asked of you so far today have been about this particular issue.
SANDERS: Well, that’s determined by you guys.
DECKER: He has a tremendous amount of power when he tweets. You know, we report on it. And, so, when he tweets something, it does take away from his legislative agenda. Would you not agree?
SANDERS: No, I don’t. Because I think it’s important for our president to show patriotism, to be a leader on this issue, and he has.
“That's determined by you guys.”
Technically, Sanders is right. Reporters could, in theory, have ignored the subject about which the president of the United States displayed the most interest over the previous three days.
That is, of course, a totally unreasonable expectation.
You have to hand it to the White House, though: This is a pretty neat trick. Let the president talk for days about demonstrations at NFL games, then claim the protests are the media's obsession when reporters ask lots of questions.
Sanders focused her opening remarks on tax policy and the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine's integration of an Arkansas high school. She set the scene perfectly. The first question — from another Fox News reporter — was about Trump and the NFL.
What viewers saw was Trump's spokeswoman address an important pocketbook issue and a milestone moment in American history, only to have the media abruptly change the subject.
It was an entirely predictable sequence — and exactly what the White House would want.