When White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asked the press corps Monday to preface their daily briefing questions with a statement of thankfulness, reporters obliged.
Or, should we say, obeyed.
For this, no doubt, Sanders was grateful.
Yet again, she controlled the crowd, though this time by candy-coating her usual condescension with faux fellowship.
I’m thankful I wasn’t in the room.
My first impulse when someone asks me to share is to not-share. This isn’t because I’m not a sharing person—you can have my cake and eat it, too—but because sharing, like charity, should be voluntary. For a press secretary to require professional journalists to essentially beg for their supper, surrendering their adversarial posture like a dog commanded to Drop The Bone, is an infantilizing tactic. The effect is to neutralize the opposition.
Yes, I said opposition. The press, by definition, is oppositional. As Mr. Dooley, the turn-of-the-century fictional bartender created by columnist Finley Peter Dunne is often paraphrased: “The newspaper’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Yet, from the interplay between the media and the Trump administration, one would think reporters were supposed to be taking dictation. Seen and not heard. Sanders, whose persistently arched brows convey an air of constant disapproval, routinely brushes reporters’ questions aside. During any given press briefing, one is likely to hear words to these effects:
“I think he addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday,” she’ll say. Or, “We don’t have any announcement on that.” Or my personal favorite, which came in response to a query about chief of staff and retired Gen. John Kelly’s controversial remarks about Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate.”
One peers into Sanders’ fantasy movie, where the reporter, abashed, shrinks into the folds of his trench coat, muttering, “What an impudent, incompetent fool am I!”
If Sanders isn’t evading, she’s scolding. Like a parent weary of her 3-year-old’s constant “why?,” her tone and expression telegraph: “Because I say so, case closed.”
Sanders’ sudden shift from press secretary to minister’s daughter a few days before Thanksgiving coincides with her apparent image evolution of being more-carefully coiffed, coutured and contoured with appropriately professional makeup.
One can almost hear the hive of consultants discussing how to imperceptibly adapt this no-frills brainiac to the shallower requirements of a visual medium.
If one were Sanders’ employer, meanwhile, one surely would be pleased. She’s everything a terrible person—or, say, an unpopular president—could hope for in a public relations artist. She says nothing; gives away nothing; looks fierce and dutifully repeats falsehoods as required. Her resistance to flinching or blinking is state of the art.
Yet, even as Sanders declines to enlighten the press corps, she manages to inspire admiration for her toughness and effectiveness—from a certain perspective.
To Donald Trump’s base, she’s the a la mode on a slice of apple pie, the pompom and confetti at a freedom rally, or, perhaps, the elfin princess who can read and direct a person’s thoughts by hypnotizing them with her magic pearls. Her daily humiliation of the press, making them seem like churlish children, is a booster shot of “fake news” animus that also inoculates against viral truths.
To the media, she is the wall Trump promised to erect and, increasingly, it seems, we are the swamp he seeks to drain. Out with the media, out with free speech, out with facts! For these purposes, Sanders is perfectly cast. Where there is the prolonged car alarm of “fake news,” there is bound to be a fake news officer. Such is not always the case. In fact, the most successful press secretaries were journalists first.
Jay Carney, formerly of Time magazine comes to mind, as does Tony Snow, previously of Fox News. Both men were well-known, respected and liked by their media peers before crossing over to the Dark Side. They also understood what reporters needed and tried to provide it. When they couldn’t, they were at least self-effacing and seemed sincere in regretting limitations imposed by the job. Most important, they fully understood and appreciated the sanctity of the First Amendment, without which all freedoms fail.
To this testament, a note of personal gratitude. Today, not just on our national feast day, I’m thankful for the freedom to speak without (undue) fear of retribution.
Let’s not let the turkeys whittle it away.
Though Republicans have been on the political hot seat because of credible allegations about sexual assault, child predation and harassment hanging over Alabama’s Roy Moore and the U.S. Senate seat he wants, only Democrats can turn what feels like a moment into a movement.
For that to happen, they will have to do something they proved incapable, or unwilling, of doing when they were previously faced with disturbing and inappropriate behavior within their own ranks.
They get to start doing so with Sen. Al Franken, who was accused last week of forcibly kissing and groping a woman in 2006. How the party handles that allegation will determine if the U.S. is on the verge of striking a real blow against gender discrimination or remain stuck in a hyper-partisan environment that makes such change impossible.
In the early going, Democrats have responded with just the right tone. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for an immediate ethics investigation, and few if any of Franken’s supporters tried to make excuses, as Moore apologists did.
The party can go further, not by offering an apology for how it handled Bill Clinton (though it should do that as well) and the women who accused him of dastardly things, but by declaring that it will accept no one as a presidential nominee or major office holder if there are credible accusations that he (or she) committed ugly acts against women (or men). That includes Sen. Franken, who should resign.
Democrats should commit to not hiding behind the kind of rationale Alabama Republicans have wedded themselves to in defense of Roy Moore, such as claiming there is not enough evidence to make an informed judgment, when there clearly is, or saying they don’t care because their political opponents are worse.
They must prioritize—in no uncertain terms—the well-being and worth of women above short-term political gain. If Democrats refuse to do so, it will reveal that the outrage they are expressing about Moore, and expressed when Donald Trump became president despite being caught on video bragging about casually sexually assaulting women, is hollow.
Democrats must lead even though it is the GOP, which has long claimed the mantle of religious faith, that now is facing the most egregious case. Moore is accused of prowling for teenagers, including a 14-year-old, when he was a 32-year-old man. Republicans abdicated their moral duty and used the longstanding Democratic embrace of Bill Clinton as an excuse to elect Trump. That’s why they cannot be relied upon to strike a fatal blow against sexual harassment—particularly because they still approve of Trump at a roughly 80 percent clip despite his horrific history with women.
Before Franken, Democrats were reveling in the troubles facing Republicans because of Moore. They didn’t want to hear about Clinton, fearing that might make it harder to claim the moral high ground as they bashed the family values party for having chosen a man like Trump. They were leery of facing up to their own flaws, knowing the GOP was likely to use them for political purposes. While those concerns are legitimate, they are nakedly political ones.
It’s time to put on display the kind of moral courage the GOP has long talked about but rarely adhered to.
Democrats have an opportunity to rise above politics and move the country forward in a way they always claimed they wanted to.
They should seize it.
—The Charlotte Observer
From online story comments and Facebook
On possible pending sale of the Janesville Mall: The Janesville Mall is blah. It needs something besides shopping to attract people. Look around at successful malls, and you will see they have more to offer than shopping alone. Or, too bad they can’t just jack it up and move it downtown where the real action is going on.
—Joe From Wisconsin
Joe, wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to kayak to the mall?
If the city wants to help out the sagging mall’s prospects, perhaps it would consider converting Milton Avenue into two-way. Wait a minute, Milton Avenue is already two-way.
The next problem: As values of these retail properties decline, so will property tax collection. More tax burden will fall to residential, and then online purchases won’t be such a bargain!
How about a cornered-off section and turning it into a venue for concerts? Janesville doesn’t have ANYTHING for music.
—Troy T Beau Leak
Bring back an arcade! That place was so much better than any other store in the mall.
Trampoline park. Kids need something to do.
—Michelle Leigh Johnson Seipel
Turn it back in a corn field.
On death of longtime basketball referee Bob Luchsinger Sr.: One of the best officiating mentors I ever had! A gracious, personable, competitive, compassionate and caring gentleman who always wanted the best for everyone whom he came in contact with.
—Wilson Y. Leong
On death of local women’s rights pioneer: Good work, Doris Schumacher Thom. You’ve earned a good rest in peace. Condolences to your family.
On Milton Consolidated Elementary rating as top school in state: Maybe the reason so many families have fought passionately to keep it open when budget cuts have put it in the chopping block. It’s a special school.
—Jill Grunzel Alf
It seems administration is always there to grab the credit, even though we know the teachers are the ones having the real connection with the kids. Good job, Consolidated, the small school with great teachers.
On opioids being top prescribed medication: You can thank Congressman Tom Marino and Speaker Paul Ryan for passing a bill to block the work of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
I suffer from chronic pain after having two brain surgeries. Most of their alternative treatments do nothing. So because some idiots want to abuse it, I get to live in pain all day, every day of my life? Some people just will never understand.
—Pam Long Cochran
On Rock County plans to study airport operations: The county needs to get out of the airport business. What does any of the 30-some supervisors know about running an airport? Government should not be in the business of owning (or leasing) softball fields, golf courses, airports or restaurants in airports.
On Charles Manson’s death Sunday: This animal does not deserve this article or the publicity. IMO, this means no more than finally being able to flush a long-plugged toilet.
On Saturday story, “Trump campaign created own rules on sexual harassment”: The Trumpster is a self-confessed slime ball. Real quiet on here from his sycophants, I think!
Real quiet from the left here about the party favorite, Al Franken, groping headline. There was a headline, right?
Why is the AP back to repeating something that was said in a private conversation more than 12 years ago? Yes, President Trump apologized for his “locker-room comment.”