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The final score as Sarah Sanders exits White House: Sanders, 1, the press: 0

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
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Sarah Sanders won, and it wasn't really a contest. As Donald Trump's press secretary officially exits the White House at the end of June, it's worth examining the extraordinary impact she had on how the Beltway press corps functions, and how news outlets barely put up a fight as she helped shred decades' worth of traditions and protocols designed to promote transparency. Indeed, White House reporters, who spent the previous year being lied to by Sanders and scolded by her in public for peddling "fake news," shamefully arranged to have drinks with her as part of a fond farewell. They lifted their glasses to a press secretary who hadn't held a White House press briefing in 100 days.

Killing off the press briefings, probably Sanders's most famous move, was one facet of an accelerated strategy to choke off press briefings and part of a historic, incremental effort by the Trump administration to lock out the press -- and, by extension, the public -- from the government's official duties and business. And it's not just about the White House: The Pentagon hasn't hosted a media briefing in more than a year. And while controversy spreads over the government's inhumane treatment of detained and separated child refugees, reporters are being kept out of key detention facilities, forced to rely on second-hand accounts regarding the deplorable conditions. "The blackout on press access has left Americans largely in the dark about conditions in government facilities designed to handle migrants who have crossed the border," the Washington Post reports. And that's exactly how the Trump team wants it: Americans in the dark.

That's because Trump views the press as another political target to punch, and he couldn't really care less about keeping journalists informed and extending cordial relations with them. That meant Sanders had less and less to do as she collected her $179,000 government salary. Even some White House insiders considered the communications shop that Sanders ran "irrelevant." Her team shrank dramatically as scores of assistants and deputies left the White House and their jobs went unfilled, in part because there's not much for communication staffers to do. In previous administrations, those support staffers helped the press secretary prepare for his or her daily briefings -- briefings that have been effectively eliminated under Trump. "Because only a few staffers remain, there is a lack of manpower for creating a broad messaging strategy," CNN recently reported.

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In terms of the now-comatose press briefings, the press pretty much melted without putting up any resistance.

Rather than take a definitive, collective stand and demand access and accountability, news outlets embraced timidity, which allowed the White House to essentially erase the briefings in slow motion. At this point, the fact that the briefings no longer really exist doesn't matter much, since they have been completely useless for a very long time. A barrage of lies and non-responses, the press events do almost the exact opposite of what the briefings were designed to do: inform journalists about the day's events at the White House.

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Sanders' no-show routine when it comes to press briefings has become so ridiculous that White House reporters are now forced to run out onto the grounds on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when they find out she's giving a live interview to Fox News on the White House lawn. When she's done with her Fox News interviews, reporters gather around to toss questions as she walks back into the White House, because it's their only way to engage with her!

This is the same woman who tried to strip CNN's Jim Acosta of his press credentials and this spring initiated a purge of White House reporters in an effort to keep more journalists out of the loop. This was after she'd lied to reporters relentlessly on behalf of her lying boss, and had also echoed his claims about how the press was a danger to American democracy. That's who reporters wanted to toast during a private, feel-good send off.

The Beltway press seems to have sprinted past the Stockholm Syndrome phase of this drama. "The correspondents huddled to grab selfies with Sanders. She squeezed hands and smiled, relaxed, three days out from vacation," the Columbia Journalism Review reported.

Reporters stressed that there was nothing strange about sending a press secretary who despises the press off with well wishes. "This is not an official [White House Correspondents Association] event, rather a casual gathering for reporters who have engaged with Sarah Sanders, many of whom have done so for years," wrote Anita Kumar, a Politico reporter who helped organize the friendly event. "This type of gathering is quite common, regardless of administration -- as many reporters know and have frequented."

Did you catch that key rationalization? Toasting press secretaries is "quite common, regardless of administration," which really says it all. That means reporters are sticking to their bizarre claim that this White House is like most others and that there's nothing new or radical happening under Trump's watch. Therefore journalists are allowed to continue time-honored traditions, like schmoozing press secretaries, because it's the polite thing to do!

Quick: How large is the rock you have to be living under to suggest with a straight face that the Trump White House operates like other White Houses, and that it hasn't become a bastion of corruption and lies?

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Meanwhile, there's next-to-zero chance anything will change with Sanders' replacement. In fact, I'd wager lots of money that Trump's new press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, doesn't hold a single press briefing this year. "Grisham, 42, who on Tuesday was named the new White House press secretary, developed a reputation for being combative and critical of the media during her time as communications director for first lady Melania Trump," the Washington Post reported.

Because, of course.

 

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Eric Boehlert Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a (more...)
 

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Maybe in some upside down way, this woman did us a revelatory favor. She shone a floodlight (even better than whatshisname before her) on the submissive, grovelling press who craved access, parties and fame. Ahead of the truth. Freedom of the Press was specified in the 1st Amendment for a doggone good, noble and necessary reason. What did we wind up with 240 yrs. later? Sycophants.

RIP Helen Thomas.

And to Sarah Huckabee Sanders,

'Buh-Bye Now' Please let the door...

Thanks for a good article, Eric.

Submitted on Sunday, Jun 30, 2019 at 9:57:13 PM

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