It is time for White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to step down. I do not suggest that for the same reasons you will hear from the antagonistic press corps. She is perfectly within her rights to be grossly offended by the character assassinations from a number of reporters, entertainers and Democrat politicians. She has endured more than she deserves.
Put quite simply, I do not believe that Sanders has the personality for the job. This is not a recently formed judgment. I came to that opinion shortly after she was appointed.
For a few weeks, I was just an objective observing – seeing how well she would do in the new job. Concerns arose immediately, but I did not publicly express my thoughts in order to give her some time to grow into the job. I also refrained from writing this commentary at those peak points when she was being so unfairly assaulted by the media – as well as restaurant owners.
For sure, that job is not easy -- and especially challenging under President Trump. We can take that into consideration. As nice of a person and well intentioned as she may be, Sanders does not have the skill set to do the job. You either have the ability to handle the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune on the public platform, or you do not. She does not.
As I watched Sanders’ performance in dealing with the Brennan controversy, it seemed the time had come to express my opinion. She needs to go. But, why – specifically?
Her first problem is that she does not dominate the podium in those press briefings. She appears to use the podium as a defensive shield. It may be sensing that fear or trepidation is what emboldens the more rabid members of the press to confront her so rudely and aggressively. Such reporters as NBC’s Jim Costa and Sentinel Newspapers’ Brian Karem seem to earn their chops – and the attention of the cameras – by attacking rather than questioning. They are a couple of hotheads who give the press corps a bad name.
When Sanders does get questions, she does not handle them well. She too often answers in ways that do not necessarily respond to the question – and often lead to more controversy and confusion. In a way, she provides the President’s media antagonists with too many opportunities to spin negative stories. Every past presidential press secretary dodged questions, but they did it with greater aplomb.
Like her boss, Sanders lacks a sense of humor. Her mood seems to range from serious to somber, with a little burst of anger now and then. Even when she pushes back, she seems like the weakling in the exchange. Her I’m-rubber-and-your-glue level of comebacks lack both sting or mocking wit. She is unfamiliar with the art of the “put down.”
Then there is that monotonal robotic style that is heard in both her reading from written statements and her unscripted responses to questions. She reads statements matter-of-factly, as if she is bored. It's part of the job. She will do it, but not with any enthusiasm. And her frequent and prolonged “uhs” show a certain lack of platform polish. In short, she lacks salesmanship.
From the outside, it is not possible to know how much influence Sanders has in the crafting of statements and responses, but it can be said that the White House falls short in effective messaging. This is also a problem with the greater Republican Party. Republican officials and their spokespersons have to be better than Democrats because the GOP does not have the Democrats’ distinct advantage of those home-town referees in the media.
Beyond a change in personnel, there is the issue of press corps behavior. If I were in that job, I would impose a number of rule changes – assuming the boss would approve, of course.
Rule number one would be to penalize reporters who get confrontational. Their job is to receive information and ask questions. They are not there to engage in partisan debates. Consequences could include not taking a rogue reporters’ questions, a temporary barring from the briefings and, in the case of repeat offenders, bar them permanently from the White House press corps. They could be replaced by another reporter from the news service.
When a briefing includes other officials or Cabinet members, there should be no other issues raised or responded to. In too many briefings, the press totally ignores newsworthy developments presented by Cabinet secretaries or other high-ranking officials. Too much of the media ignores these announcements to obsess on the less important political infighting and to create grist for their biased narratives.
When the President is providing a press availability with another head-of-state, there should only be questions relating to subjects relevant to the two nations. Again, the White House press corps ignores most of these meetings and again wants to ask questions unrelated to the visit. This is a discourtesy to the visitor. One head-of-state turned to Trump and asked, “Do you always put up with this?” And the follow-up questions should have been, “Why?”
Once the President or the Press Secretary cuts off questions, there should be no more questions. The practice of yelling questions or comments after the briefing or press conference is over is just plain rude. Those who would violate such a rule may find themselves no longer a member of the White House press corps. Of course, this rule would require the President to NOT respond to after-the-whistle questions. Hey! Maybe there should be a real whistle.
President Trump has been more accessible to the press than any president in history. That is a good thing and should be continued. I would also add more White House briefings – maybe two or three a week, with at least one open to answer any and all questions. Others may be subject specific. That would be more briefings than the press is currently getting.
There were a couple of White House briefings during the Sean Spicer days that brought in questions from reporters around the country through a televised connection. That is a great idea and I would install the technology and implement procedures that would expand on that concept. Too many in the current White House press corps seem to treat it like a private club which has a small board of super members.
I might even consider a drawing to determine who gets called on and in what order. The idea that those in the front get all the action seems … well … undemocratic. For the big television news outlets, being able to ask a question is less important than being able to be on camera asking a question since even those lowly reporters in the back of the room are very likely to ask the same questions.
Finally, I would move the briefings and the press rooms to the neighboring Executive Office Building, where there is more room. It is obvious that the quarters in the West Wing of the Mansion are too crowded. Yes, the reporters would cry and moan – and claim all sorts of attacks on freedom of speech – but there is no infringement on their ability to do their job from just a few hundred feet further away. If the EOB is good enough for the Vice President’s office and a lot of senior White House staff, it should be good enough for the press.
President Trump is in the perfect position to make all the aforementioned changes because no matter how upset those self-indulgent and arrogant reporters may get, they could not possibly treat him any worse than they do now.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and political issues. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, and he has served as a consultant to the White House under Presidents Nixon and Reagan. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress and lectured at Harvard University, Northwestern University, Florida Atlantic University, Knox College and Hope College. An award winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at email@example.com.