Something strange happened at the White House on July 18.
OK, I guess I’ll need to be a bit more specific, as there’s a lot of strange stuff happening over at 1600 Pennsylvania these days: Something strange happened during the daily White House press briefing between two journalists from competing news outlets.
NBC’s Hallie Jackson was asking Press Secretary Sarah Sanders about President Donald Trump’s inconsistent answers on the topic of Russian election interference.
During his July 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump said that he didn’t “see why [Russia] would have” interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. The following day, though, he walked that back, claiming that he meant to say “wouldn’t.” But on July 18, a reporter asked whether he believed Russia is trying to hack the 2018 election, to which he responded “no,” contradicting his intelligence advisors. Later, the White House tried to walk back that “no.”
It was all very confusing, so it was reasonable that reporters might have a few questions about it.
“Why should this president have any credibility to Americans in what he says if, in fact, 24 hours later — or in this case, three hours later — the White House comes out and says, ‘Just kidding’?” asked Jackson.
As press secretaries (in this administration, as well as previous ones) have a tendency to do when backed into a corner on a question they might not have the answer to, Sanders offered a quick response to Jackson and called on another reporter before she got any follow-up questions.
This time, though, it didn’t work. A journalist from a competing outlet threw the question back to Jackson. It was remarkable.
“I’m going to keep moving. Jordan, go ahead,” Sanders said, calling on Jordan Fabian, a reporter at The Hill.
Jackson persisted, but once again, Sanders cut her off and threw the question over to Fabian.
Old enough to remember when other networks came to the defense of Fox News WH correspondents during the Obama years. Such did not happen here.
Lesson for the kids out there: no one should ever try to do the right thing with the expectation it will ever be reciprocated. https://t.co/Ym7E94k2Wz
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) July 13, 2018
There was a period when the Obama press shop iced Fox in briefings. The rest of the press corps backed them up in the interest of free press and 1st Amendment.
It’d be great to see them return the professional courtesy
— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) July 13, 2018
In response to that criticism, the Trump administration cancelled a planned appearance by National Security Advisor John Bolton on CNN’s “State of the Union,” citing the network’s “disrespect” for the president. This tactic of withholding access to encourage more favorable coverage can only work if other media outlets let it. On July 15, ABC’s Jon Karl pressed Bolton on that exact issue, a big win for journalistic solidarity — something that clearly carried over to the July 18 press briefing.
The professional courtesy exhibited between Jackson and Fabian should be the norm.
All politicians and all administrations lie. The Trump administration, however, is in a league of its own. Trump has told more than 2,000 individual public lies since becoming president, according to a Toronto Star report. Trump then acts as though he’s being disrespected when a journalist does their job and calls him on it.
For the sake of the truth, here’s hoping that journalists continue to stick up for one another.
Watch the full exchange below (starting at about 16:33).
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