Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a simple request before her briefing the Monday before Thanksgiving – that reporters say what they are thankful for this holiday season before they ask their questions.
Most played along, creating a lighter environment on a holiday week when little news is made. Most were “grateful for their children, their spouses, their health and the privilege of getting to ask questions at the White House,” reported Dana Milbank, a columnist for the Washington Post.
But Sanders’ critics in the mainstream media were not amused.
“The president of the United States is a bully who makes a mockery of his office, democratic institutions and the English language,” wrote the New Yorker’s Masha Gessen. “It’s the job of reporters to ask questions, and it is Sanders’ job to answer them. That was why they were all gathered there: to do their jobs of asking and answering.
“Of course, this is merely a matter of convention; there is no law or rule to prevent Sanders from rejecting questions or from setting conditions for their asking. One might assume that the reporters in the room have the power, given that they serve as the informal representatives of the voting public. But this is not how this administration interprets the relationship, and Sanders was reminding the press corps that she has the power to respond to their questions or not.”
Gessen did not point out the previous administration did not even let reporters who wanted to ask hostile questions attend the briefings, or that it dodged – with the cooperation of the reporters who had no qualms cozying up to that administration – anything resembling a tough question for eight years.
Milbank added that he prefers “to share my thoughts of gratitude with my family at the Thanksgiving table, rather than when commanded to by a Trump mouthpiece,” then proceeded to unveil a long list – in the paper and not at the aforementioned table – of what he was thankful for.
Milbank was thankful for the “many men and women who, often at great personal cost and risk, have stood up to the authoritarian in the White House;” for Jim Comey, Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller for dragging on their investigations into the Trump administration, for other world leaders filling “the void in world leadership left by Trump’s retreat;” for the Republicans who criticize him and even for Heather Heyer, “killed in Charlottesville as she protested white supremacists.”
A reporter who attends briefings regularly told the Washington Examiner the complaints were overwrought. “Clearly, if you pay attention to what happened in the room, everyone participated,” the reporter said. “I just don’t see it as that bad.”
Reporters seem to see little downside in ripping into the president’s press secretary in some spectacularly personal ways. One columnist for the Los Angeles Times was forced to apologize and to remove some portions of a column on Sanders – he called her a “slightly chunky soccer mom” who does not “look like the kind of woman Donald Trump would choose as his chief spokesperson” – because even his left-leaning colleagues in the press found them offensive.
It was unlikely this would receive fair treatment in the press, which has unloaded an unusually large amount of personal commentary on Sanders.
Also last week, Sanders tweeted that she had been visited in her office by the turkeys Trump later pardoned.
“We had a surprise visitor in my office today and got to live a real-life version of an episode of the West Wing,” Sanders wrote.
Bradley Whitford, who played presidential aide Josh Lyman on the series, tweeted that the show’s press secretary, whose name was C.J. Cregg, would not have approved.
“I know C.J. Cregg. C.J. Cregg is a friend of mine. You’re no C.J. Cregg,” Whitford wrote.
“Thanks for having my back, Josh,” responded Allison Janney, the actor who Craig but whose career has gone downhill since. “Love, C.J.”