In another tweet, Trump presented a more detailed beef with the media broadly (though, obviously, with the Times in mind).
The Press has never been more dishonest than it is today. Stories are written that have absolutely no basis in fact. The writers don’t even call asking for verification. They are totally out of control. Sadly, I kept many of them in business. In six years, they all go BUST!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2019
That assertion that the media doesn’t call for verification is meant to reinforce Trump’s claim that the reports are baseless. How could the Times get the story right if its reporters didn’t even ask the White House for its version of the story?
On CNN shortly after Trump tweeted, one of the reporters on the Times story, Maggie Haberman, rebutted Trump’s claim.
“I sent several emails that went unanswered until yesterday,” Haberman said. “We went through a detailed list of what we were planning on reporting. They chose not to engage, and then, afterwards, the president acts surprised.”
She added, “We certainly followed normal reporting practices and went over it at length with both the White House and the Department of Justice."
That lack of response to reporters’ questions has become something of a feature with this White House. In December, The Washington Post reported on the extent to which reporters had seen their efforts to gather information stymied. “As a whole,” the Times’s Peter Baker told The Post’s Paul Farhi, “I’ve learned not to expect answers even to basic questions.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders no doubt gets a slew of questions on any given day that all mirror the same broad themes: Something happens in the news, and she’s asked for comment or for more details. Answering the same question 45 times would no doubt prompt someone to increasingly decline to offer any response at all.
If only there were a way to answer questions from the reporters all at once, largely eliminating wholly redundant questions! Perhaps if Sanders gathered all of the reporters covering the White House in a room once a day and fielded their questions all at one time. What a boon to the reporters — and what a boon to Sanders’s schedule that would be!
This, of course, was once known as the daily press briefing. And under past White House press secretaries, it was indeed a daily event.
Here, by way of example, is how often press briefings have been held since January 2016 — covering press secretaries Josh Earnest, Sean Spicer and Sanders — and how long they lasted. (We’ve also included less formal and briefer press gaggles, which are often held on Air Force One.)
You’ll notice that, at the beginning, there are steady blocks of five circles in a row: a press briefing every weekday, like clockwork. There are some dry spells, often during August, when presidents tend to take vacations. But still: regular. Until Sanders takes over from Spicer in July 2017 and things start to
Curious how long it’s been since Sanders held a press briefing? Allow us.
There have been lulls in the daily briefing schedule under Sanders’s predecessors, of course. A review of past press briefings documented by the University of California at Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project shows that every press secretary since the start of the George W. Bush administration has gone for two weeks without holding a briefing. On average, though, Sanders’s eight immediate predecessors averaged a briefing every 3.2 days. That’s using incomplete data, excluding gaggles and with no press secretary having a higher average than Bush press secretary Scott McClellan’s 3.8 days.
Sanders’s average is 5.4 days. In the past year, she has averaged once a week. In the past six months, she is averaging about one briefing a month.
It is true that Trump himself will often field questions from reporters, either while the press is attending an event the White House has orchestrated or as he walks to Marine One. But Trump’s rocky relationship with the press — and with accuracy — often makes those encounters somewhat unhelpful.
The briefing pattern in Trump’s presidency has mirrored his campaign: Until late July 2016, Trump held press briefings regularly. Joyfully. From that point on, until he was inaugurated, he held only one press briefing.
There are, on any given day, scores of things for which more information from the White House would be useful. That Sanders holds briefings so infrequently means that many of those things quickly get overtaken by more pressing news and fade into the background static.
That, we can assume, is not an accident.