The job of White House press secretary is more than just a spokesperson advocating for the president of the United States. It is a position that embodies the trust that should exist between the American people and their government.
The press secretary serves as a living, breathing reminder of the free press’ constitutionally protected right to question the most powerful office in the world. More than that, the White House press secretary is the person we turn to in times of emergency or tragedy for the truth. We must have faith that they will understand when the politics of the day should be suspended, and when the national need for unfiltered and untainted information takes precedent.
The press secretary serves as a living, breathing reminder of the free press’ constitutionally protected right to question the most powerful office in the world.
It is not an easy job, as Thursday’s release of the redacted version of the 448-page Mueller report makes clear. And not everyone is up for the task.
The Trump administration’s current press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has been asked to simultaneously serve two masters: the president of the United States and the White House press corps (and through them, the American people.) And she has failed.
Asked to balance the political needs of Trump with the media’s right to question every decision, every comment and every action taken by the person who is also your boss, Sanders instead lied. In the process, she tarnished the office of the press secretary and further shredded the traditions of trust that past presidents have painstakingly built.
Page 284 of the Mueller report reads: “In the afternoon of May 10, 2017, deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders spoke to the President about his decision to fire Comey and then spoke to reporters in a televised press conference…Sanders said, ‘Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things’…Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue.’ She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.”
In other words, the chief spokesperson for the president of the United States admitted to Mueller’s team that she had invented interactions with members of the FBI to validate her boss’s decision to terminate James Comey. In the process, she knowingly advanced a narrative designed to undermine the credibility of the person who had been running the nation’s premier law enforcement investigative organization.
Remember this passage the next time you hear the Trump administration or Republicans talk about “national emergencies” and keeping the homeland secure.
It is not an understatement to suggest that Sanders’ willingness to flagrantly and frequently lie to the American people is corrosive to our American way of life. So paramount is the role of the free press to our system of governance that the architects of our country installed absolute protections for it. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Our citizens may be deceived for awhile, and have been deceived, but as long as the presses can be protected, we may trust to them for light.”
Our system requires there to be trust between the American people, the free press and our elected leaders. Abusing and breaking that trust is a body blow to democracy. Degrading the White House podium and relegating it to a propaganda pulpit smacks of a dictatorship, not a free and open society.
Because if we cannot trust Sanders to tell us the truth about things like the firing of the FBI director, how can we trust her when she’s briefing the American people about a school shooting or a hurricane or an adversarial foreign power’s efforts to undermine our elections? Why should any reporter believe any statement she gives ever again?
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Sanders isn’t the White House press secretary as much as she is America’s main minister of propaganda. Make no mistake about it, Sanders isn’t a “complicit” bystander to the “porn star presidency,” she is a partner in it.