Meet the Press? Don’t Bother


Sarah Huckabee Sanders, nominally the White House press secretary, has abandoned the custom of briefing the news media.Tuesday saw yet another record broken by the Trump White House: the longest run without an official news media briefing.At 43 days and counting, this information drought supplants the previous record of 42 days without a briefing, set in March — which broke the 41-day record set in January.

At some point, one cannot help but wonder: What is the job of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who holds the title of White House press secretary?

Conducting daily briefings was once a core function of the press secretary. The White House put its spin on the news of the day; reporters pushed for more information or clarification. Somewhere in all the give-and-take, the public interest was served.

Under President Trump, such sessions have all but vanished. Since the first of the year, Ms. Sanders has held two formal briefings. She has also developed a frustrating reputation for not responding to media inquiries in general.

This presumably pleases her boss. Mr. Trump prefers to broadcast to the public from the safety of Twitter, where truth and accountability are not held at a premium. In January, he even directed Ms. Sanders (in a tweet) “not to bother” with briefings anymore. Is a White House press secretary unwilling to interact with the press earning her taxpayer-funded salary?

In Ms. Sanders’s case, the growing lack of access is arguably less troubling than the lack of credibility — a problem highlighted in last Thursday’s release of the Mueller report.

The special counsel’s office detailed several instances in which, in her official capacity, Ms. Sanders flagrantly lied to the media and the American public.

After the firing of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, in May 2017, Ms. Sanders, then the deputy press secretary, claimed on two occasions that she’d heard from “countless” current and former agents that the “rank-and-file” had lost confidence in him. When later questioned by Mr. Mueller’s office, Ms. Sanders admitted that this was untrue — or, rather, that it had been a “slip of the tongue” made “in the heat of the moment.”

Equally false was Ms. Sanders’s claim that Mr. Trump did not dictate a misleading statement for his son Donald Jr. concerning the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russian go-betweens and senior members of the Trump campaign. Mr. Trump’s lawyers told investigators that the president had in fact dictated the statement.

Beyond a willingness to jettison the facts when convenient, Ms. Sanders has been true, if not to her role, at least to her boss’s priorities in her reflex when caught to shift into attack mode, railing about unjust persecution.

Asked about her “heat of the moment” defense of the Comey untruth on ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week, Ms. Sanders said, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t a robot like the Democrat Party that went out for two and a half years and stated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign.”

Such responses surely endear the press secretary to this president. While they don’t reflect well upon her, they testify first and foremost to how ill suited Mr. Trump is to his own role.