MSNBC seems to be applying a great deal of consideration to how it handles the increasingly infrequent briefings conducted by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. As we noted here in November, the cable-news channel has distinguished itself from its two main competitors by covering a number of breaking stories instead of providing live coverage of Sanders saying things after receiving questions from reporters.
On Tuesday, the cable news channel experimented with another worthwhile approach: It started carrying Sanders' briefing live until it heard a statement from the podium worthy of dissection or refutation. It took three minutes and 25 seconds. Host Katy Tur watched as Sanders, at the start of her briefing, recommitted herself to an earlier statement that the FBI had “ambushed” then-national security adviser Michael Flynn in early 2017 when agents came to interview him about contacts with Russia. “What we do know . . . is that the FBI broke standard protocol in the way that they came in and ambushed Gen. Flynn . . . and we know that because James Comey told us that,” said Sanders.
Moments later, MSNBC traded Sanders for Tur: “She is standing by her comments earlier today saying that the FBI ambushed Michael Flynn. Michael Flynn disavowed that this morning in court. He said he knew very well that lying to the FBI was a crime. She also claimed that James Comey said the FBI broke protocol. Can you fact-check that for me off the top of your head,” Tur asked correspondent Ken Dilanian. Dismantling Sanders' claim, Dilanian noted that Flynn had to sign periodic forms acknowledging that lying to the FBI was a felony. “He knew full well you can’t lie to investigators,” said Dilanian, who also noted that the alleged protocol violation related to the fact that the FBI didn’t call White House counsel before arriving to question Flynn. “He wasn’t suggesting that that somehow absolved Michael Flynn,” he said.
More debunking followed. MSNBC then returned to the briefing room, but not live: It ran some more stuff from Sanders that she’d said a few moments before in response to a question from Post reporter Josh Dawsey about whether President Trump was “concerned” that Flynn lied to his own government and was “working for another government during the campaign.” The press secretary dodged the question by saying that she’d let the courts deal with Flynn.
MSNBC again pulled away, chewing over another moment of Sanders absurdity. “Let’s just be clear here: Sarah Huckabee Sanders was just asked a very simple question,” said Tur, recapping the moment. One of her panel members called this response “mind-blowing.”
The next time MSNBC went back to the briefing, it got there just in time to hear Sanders talk about appropriations, and then this: “I’d encourage you guys to tune into the president’s event. We’ll talk to you soon.” Someone in the room blurted out, “That was a 10-minute briefing, Sarah!" It was not a compliment, considering that the last press secretary during the Obama administration, Josh Earnest, averaged nearly 70 minutes per podium appearance.
What Tur & Co. did here was to babysit the White House press briefing. Trump aides simply cannot be left to their own devices, requiring adult intervention again and again.