White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is constantly hammered by “Gotcha!” questions from reporters in the briefing room. This was dramatically underlined when the story broke about former White House staff secretary Rob Porter being accused of domestic violence by two ex-wives, one of whom even brandished a picture with a black eye.
By the time it was over, Sanders had one, too. It didn’t look good, and nothing Sanders said from the lectern was going to be good enough. The same outlets that couldn’t muster more than one question regarding former President Bill Clinton’s alleged rape of Juanita Broaddrick seem to ask 27 questions a day about Porter.
So we wondered: How much would reporters like it if Sanders were to question them as aggressively as they question her? We know the Trump haters erupted when Sanders merely asked reporters to share what they were thankful for alongside their questions as Thanksgiving approached. Imagine an exchange like this:
NBC reporter Peter Alexander: “Sarah, how could you possibly not know about these charges, and how could Porter be praised as a good man? And why can’t you offer us more transparency on the vetting process?”
Sanders: “OK, let me ask you: How could you at NBC possibly not know about the accusations of Matt Lauer aggressively propositioning women, even having a button under his desk that he could press to lock the door behind female employees? He worked at the top of NBC News for two decades, and nobody knew these women were suffering?”
Alexander: “Stop distracting. That’s none of your business. We’re a private company. We’re not accountable to the public like you.”
Sanders: “Why don’t you try that defense at a Comcast shareholders meeting? ‘We don’t have to be vigilant about our female employees. We’re a private company.’ And while you’re demanding transparency, how transparent was NBC in letting everyone know how it investigated Lauer’s misdeeds? How transparent was NBC in investigating Brian Williams’ lying on talk shows about all his amazing adventures in war zones? Next question.”
Jim Acosta, CNN: “Hold on! Aren’t you and the president putting democracy in danger when you try to undermine the respectability of the press corps?”
Sanders: “Jim, should we revisit the respectability of CNN? Your network accepted Saddam Hussein’s claim that we bombed a baby-formula factory in Iraq. Your network’s founder, Ted Turner, went to North Korea and then told Wolf Blitzer he didn’t see any brutality, just thin people riding bicycles. Are you serving democracy with this kind of journalism?”
Acosta: “That’s not fair. That happened long before I got here.”
Sanders: “OK, Jim, how about the fact that your network let Hillary Clinton have some town-hall questions in advance of a presidential debate so she could ace the test? Or that three reporters had to resign from your network for spreading ‘fake news’ about Anthony Scaramucci having a secret meeting with the Russians? Your ‘Facts First’ apple is looking wormy and bruised.”
This would probably drive the media further around the bend than they already are. But this is why Trump backers think it’s smart for the president to avoid 27-question press beatings. Trump backers remember when CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, then a New York Times reporter, asked President Obama at the 100-day mark of his presidency, “What has ... Enchanted you the most from serving in this office?”
We didn’t invent that quote. Reporters will angrily deny there’s a dramatic double standard in what they call “holding public servants accountable.” Not even they believe it.