Stephanie Grisham can lay claim to being Washington’s busiest person. Bearing three titles at the madcap Trump White House cements that honor: “I’ve been on the job for only about a month, and I have two additional roles aside from press secretary. I am press secretary and director of communications for the West Wing, and continue my role of communications [director] for the first lady in the East Wing — that is unprecedented,” Grisham writes to the Erik Wemple Blog.
“I’ve also been getting to know staff, members of the press corps, and reorganizing both the comms and press teams, totaling roughly 40 people who now report to me. This doesn’t count the daily meetings and policy briefings I participate in daily,” she notes in an email.
One thing missing from that list is the central role of a White House press secretary: holding daily briefings, a tradition that lapsed on March 11 under Grisham’s predecessor, Sarah Sanders. In her first TV interview since her assumption of press-secretary duties, Grisham was pressed on the matter by Sinclair’s Eric Bolling. No need, she suggested, pointing to the work of her boss: “He’s so accessible, so right now I think that’s good enough,” she said.
Riffing on that accessibility, Grisham told Bolling, “In my three and a half weeks on the job, I’ve seen him gaggle for 45 minutes at Marine One. Have them into the Cabinet Room for over an hour, have them into the Oval Office constantly. He gaggled under the wing at Bedminster, [N.J.]. He is the most accessible president in modern history, so I don’t know what any of the press could complain about.”
Nice to see some factual commentary from the White House. As this blog noted on Wednesday, President Trump has held the most short question-and-answer sessions with reporters, based on data collected by Martha Joynt Kumar of the White House Transition Project. But accessibility doesn’t mean transparency, and that’s where
Grisham’s job enters the picture.
What the world has come to understand as the White House press secretary no longer exists. It’s no longer possible.
When Trump holds his frequent Q-and-A sessions with reporters, he tells falsehoods, goes off on endless and bizarre tangents, trashes opponents and otherwise leaves a messy tangle of quotes and sentence fragments in his wake. Reporters looking to make sense of it all might not get an audience with the president until the next time he heads out to Marine One or sits with a foreign leader in the Oval Office. So they turn to the press secretary. And we’ve seen again and again what happens when press secretaries stand up in the briefing room and attempt to defend/explain/amplify Trump’s meanderings. They end up repeating silly pat phrases; they rely excessively on nonsense from Fox News; they mangle history; they twist logic in new and exciting ways; they lie and they lie and they lie.
Having served in the Trump White House from the beginning, Grisham surely knows all of this. An established professional cannot remain an established professional while performing all the traditional duties of press secretary under Trump. “I am serving this president, first lady, the country and the press corps in a variety of roles in the administration — three huge roles to be exact,” Grisham tells the Erik Wemple Blog. “People may have a preconceived notion that this role belongs behind the podium, but I think this administration has gone beyond traditional roles in a variety of ways.”
In banishing the press briefings, however, the administration isn’t going beyond traditional roles. It’s falling short of them.
One White House correspondent — who calls Grisham “moderately” responsive — says Grisham is still deciding how she wants to proceed in her various roles. Another frets that she has stayed away from those al fresco cable-news interviews, meaning the White House press corps cannot corral her as she makes her way back to her office. That was a common sight under the Sanders regime.
“I think she is a continuation of the previous press secretaries — more interested in protecting Trump at any cost than providing factual information to the public,” says Brian Karem, a White House correspondent for Playboy and the subject of a possible White House disciplinary action over a July dispute in the Rose Garden. “This entire administration is either unaware or uncaring of the history and responsibility its communication’s staff has to the country.”
When Grisham’s ascension was announced in June, the New York Times reported on White House efforts to figure out how to deploy communications staffers. “A person familiar with the planning said on Tuesday that some version of a formalized news briefing was likely to be revived under Ms. Grisham,” noted the article.
If things don’t turn around, that “person familiar with the planning” will have some explaining to do.
Perhaps Stephanie Grisham the communications director should order Stephanie Grisham the press secretary to restart the briefings. Until then, we’ll have to consider another 100 percent factual statement from Grisham’s interview with Bolling: “We’re just a different White House,” she said.