During a testy exchange yesterday at the first on-camera White House press briefing in a week, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was challenged by a reporter who accused her of “inflaming everybody right here right now.” Brian Karem, editor of the Montgomery County Sentinel called out Sanders for her response to a question about the firing of three CNN employees for a retracted story that did not meet CNN’s journalistic standards. Karem’s frustration and complaint was that there are consequences in the real world of journalism for shoddy work that does not meet ethical standards while the world of the White House Press Office has no similar consequences or standards.
The press secretary clearly wants to talk about the successes and stories that reflect what the Trump administration is working on. It should not be surprising, however, that the media wants to talk about other stories. This is the fundamental challenge in any communications shop and no PR workshop or textbook encourages a communications director to scold media outlets for pursuing unflattering stories. The most skilled communications professionals are able to expertly advance the narratives they want emphasized while downplaying the narratives they don’t want on the front page.
If the Trump administration was less scandal-prone and more disciplined in communications there would likely be more media bandwidth for exploring positive initiatives.
The bottom line is this: It’s the job of the press secretary to answer questions honestly – something the Trump press office has not been able to do with consistency. The press podium is not a bully pulpit and Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a public employee whose salary is paid by American taxpayers to do her job – and her job is to answer questions and represent the executive branch honestly and directly.