The last White House press briefing occurred on Dec. 18. These sessions are no longer “daily,” and aren’t even weekly or monthly. They are, instead, going the way of former press secretary Sean Spicer’s reputation: dormant. President Trump tweeted on Tuesday night:
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday, "We’re in the business of getting information to the American people, not making stars out of people that want to become contributors on CNN” — perhaps a reference to correspondents such as Brian Karem and April Ryan, who indeed secured contributor jobs with CNN after clashes in the White House briefing room. Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, insists that the briefings are critical in clearing out the “underbrush” of the news — will the president meet with so-and-so today? Is that trip abroad still on? "While other avenues exist to obtain information, the robust, public back-and-forth we’ve come to expect in the James A. Brady briefing room helps highlight that no one in a healthy republic is above being questioned,” Knox said in a statement.
Correct. White House reporting is already marred by excessive anonymity. Even though the briefings provide junk-food information, they are at least on the record, meaning that it provides a point of comparison and accountability for subsequent coverage.
The problem is that Sanders has buckled under this duty, as this blog explored in a post and video last May. “Sorry, I’m going to keep going because we’re really tight on time today” — that proclamation, uttered last May 17, was typical of the hurry-up offense that Sanders directed back when she even did press briefings. These days, she cites the president’s frequent “pool spray” sessions in which he entertains reporters' questions as well as her occasional gaggles, as avenues of reportorial access. There are also Sanders’s TV appearances, many of which just happen to surface on Fox News.
The decline and near extinction of the press briefing under Sanders, though, is an extraordinarily complicated thing, as these numerous takeaways demonstrate:
Takeaway No. 1: This job is impossible. The president’s ego is too big to allow the White House press secretary to tell the truth. Example: When Sanders was asked in November 2017 to identify a flaw of President Trump, she responded, “Probably that he has to deal with you guys on a daily basis.”
Takeaway No. 2: This job is impossible. It requires frequent gaslighting expeditions in the halls of the White House. In February 2018, after an untold number of tweets and statements from the president taking aim at the U.S. media, including enemy-of-the-people rhetoric, Sanders said, "We have not declared war on the press.”
Takeaway No. 3: This job is impossible. Look what it requires you to defend: Last June, Sanders was forced to defend the administration’s policy of separating kids from their parents at the southern border. She had a lot of trouble. “It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law," she said at one point. Then, on Wednesday night, she tore into the media for its treatment of the Covington students at the center of last Friday’s now-famous standoff at the Lincoln Memorial:
Takeaway No. 4: This job is impossible. It requires special exertion to refrain from chuckling at your own talking points. Faced with contradictions between statements from the president and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the media last May asked Sanders about the reliability of information coming from the White House. “And again, we give the best information possible at the time and we’re going to continue to do that,” she responded.
Takeaway No. 5: This job is impossible. It can’t be done without crossing your own peers. Back in July, a report emerged that Trump was open to the idea that Russians might interrogate a number of U.S. officials. Straitjacketed by this nonsense, Sanders said in response to a question: “The president is going to meet with his team, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that.” A State Department spokesperson, meanwhile, said, "The overall assertions are absolutely absurd — the fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens. We do not stand by those assertions.”
Takeaway No. 6: This job is impossible. It requires the most risible and easily punctured evasions. Faced with the outlines of the Stormy Daniels story, Sanders said in March 2017, “The president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration.” Social-media LOLs ensued:
Takeaway No. 7: This job is impossible. You can almost never argue something on the merits. In October 2017, for instance, reporters challenged then-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly over some errant remarks, drawing this response from Sanders: “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate.”
Takeaway No. 8: This job is impossible. Your riffs about legacy elicit guffaws. “Transparent and honest,” said Sanders when asked last month about her legacy wish.
Takeaway No. 9: This job is impossible. Earlier this month, Sanders appeared on “Fox News Sunday” with host Chris Wallace, in the middle of the shutdown debate over the construction of the border wall. To advance the White House argument, Sanders embraced a White House falsehood: “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.” But Sanders and her colleagues aren’t even clever prevaricators; they’re predictable prevaricators. “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait . . . I know this statistic. I didn’t know if you were going to use it, so I studied up on this,” Wallace said. "Do you know where those 4,000 people . . . where they’re captured? Airports.
Takeaway No. 10: This job is impossible. You get called out for all of the above: “I’ve never been attacked more, questioned more. I was called a liar by a major network in an official statement, I’ve been called outrageous things on air, and it goes unquestioned, no pushback,” said Sanders during an October 2017 panel discussion.