When then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbed then-Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields, who was in the middle of asking then-candidate Donald Trump a question, and forcefully yanked her backwards, the Trump campaign not only took no action against Lewandowski, it lied relentlessly about what had happened.
Then-campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks asserted that “not a single camera or reporter of more than 100 in attendance captured the alleged incident.” Trump, in his own style, simply said, “Nothing happened.” Lewandowski said, “I never touched you.”
This was all, no surprise, untrue. The Washington Post’s Ben Terris was standing inches away from Lewandowski and wrote a play-by-play of the assault. Multiple cameras captured Lewandowski grabbing Fields. And though he eventually decided against pursuing battery charges against Lewandowski, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg affirmed that Lewandowski “grabbed Ms. Fields’ arm, pulling her away from Mr. Trump.”
Still, two messages had been effectively conveyed to the public. First: Reporters aren’t off-limits. Assault them if you want. Second: We will lie, not only because it helps us, but also simply to show that we can do so without consequence.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered a masterclass on those points this week, when she used a doctored video to justify suspending the press pass CNN’s Jim Acosta.
You’ve probably heard about this: Acosta was asking Trump a question at Wednesday’s press briefing when a White House intern repeatedly grabbed at Acosta’s microphone in an attempt to silence the reporter.
The video Sanders tweeted, which, earlier that day, was posted by the conspiracy outlet InfoWars, was altered in order to speed up a hand motion Acosta made, turning it into an aggressive karate chop.
Acosta’s suspended press pass, and the press secretary’s tweet, should trail Sanders’ career as a communications professional like truck stop toilet paper.
But if the Trump administration’s most deceptive alumni are any indication, it won’t: Lewandowski went on to a Harvard fellowship and, days after finishing the guest residence, allegedly sexually assaulted singer and Trump supporter Joy Villa. Hope Hicks now leads communications at “New Fox,” the new parent company of Fox News.
And former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, despite his prolific and well-documented lies, also earned a trip to Harvard, and now enjoys a similar career to the one he had before — Republican communications guru and pundit — except with added book sales and public speaking fees, well-regard in all the right conservative circles, and the beneficially fast-fading memories of the most disgraceful chapter of his career.
So here, too, stands Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Ought she be held to account for her lies, her disregard for reporters’ safety and the First Amendment, and her central role in stiff-arming objective truth itself out of the public sphere?
Sure, but she won’t.
Instead, we at TPM are left picking up the pieces, chronicling Rome as it burns and, when one has the opportunity, assigning awards named after the most corrupt congressman we know of, Randy “Duke” Cunningham.
Cunningham completed his prison sentence; he lives in Arkansas now. For facing no professional consequences as she stands atop her own smoldering pile of digital video bits, Sarah Huckabee Sanders will have to accept, at bare minimum, the distinction of Duke of the Week.