White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the Trump administration’s relationship with the press Tuesday night, inaccurately telling former Clinton administration press secretary Mike McCurry that “we have not declared war on the press.”
“Yes you did,” McCurry countered at a panel co-sponsored by the White House Correspondents’ Association and the White House Transition Project. Martha Joynt Kumar, the latter group’s director, moderated the event.
“Yes you did,” McCurry continued. “And that’s a big, big difference, and you need to roll that back. You can’t do it, but the President has got to roll that back.”
President Donald Trump and his one-time chief strategist Steve Bannon famously called the press the “enemy of the people,” and little has changed in the President’s view of the Fourth Estate.
Less than 10 minutes after the event ended, Trump taunted cable news channels on his Twitter account.
Bad ratings @CNN & @MSNBC got scammed when they covered the anti-Trump Russia rally wall-to-wall. They probably knew it was Fake News but, because it was a rally against me, they pushed it hard anyway. Two really dishonest newscasters, but the public is wise!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2018
“You cannot do this job in an environment in which you are belligerent, and saying we are at war with these people every day, in the media,” McCurry said, adding: “Your President has got to change the way he talks about the media. He has to, because it’s critical to how we hold our glue together, and how democracy functions.”
“I think that’s a two-way street that there is a level of respect that could be, I think, certainly brought from the press corps as well,” Sanders responded. “I mean, the idea that you’re going to lay the blame at the feet of the President I find to be a little bit far-fetched.”
She claimed later that “90 percent” of the press coverage of Trump had been negative.
“That’s because 90 percent of what he’s done, people have questions about,” McCurry said.
Sanders said that the country was “actually doing really well” and that “[w]hen you have that much positive news to talk about, and only 10 percent of the time it’s covered, I think that it’s hard to argue that there shouldn’t be a certain level of frustration.”
The pair agreed on one point: that the live broadcast of White House press briefings — McCurry called them “entertainment events” and “theater productions” — had detracted from the informational value of the briefings. McCurry said he wished the White House embargoed video from the briefings until after they ended.
“A lot of times the theatrics of it take away from the news component,” Sanders said, adding: “We have lost the purpose of what the briefing was intended to be.”