White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is constantly hammered by “Gotcha!” questions by reporters in the briefing room. This was dramatically underlined when the story broke of White House staff secretary Rob Porter being accused of domestic violence by two ex-wives, one even brandishing 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 podium was going to be good enough. The same outlets who couldn’t muster more than one question regarding Bill Clinton’s alleged rape of Juanita Broaddrick seem to ask 27 questions a day about Rob Porter.
So we wondered: How much would reporters like it if Sanders questioned 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: “Okay, let me ask you. How could you at NBC possibly not know about Matt Lauer aggressively propositioning women, even having a button under his desk that he could 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 they investigated Lauer’s misdeeds? How transparent was NBC in investigating Brian Williams lying on the talk shows about all his amazing adventures in war zones? Next question.”
Jim Acosta, CNN: “Hold on right there! 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 we bombed a baby-milk 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: “Okay, Jim, how about your network that let Hillary Clinton have some town-hall questions in advance so she could ace the test? Or your network had to fire three reporters for spreading the fake news that Anthony Scaramucci had 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 current CNN White House reporter Jeff Zeleny asked Obama at the 100-day mark, “What has enchanted you the most about 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.