White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is not too talkative as she presides over daily meetings with the White House press corps in the James Brady briefing room. She’s under the glare of TV lighting, reporters, and the masses who watch live on C-Span while she attempts to say nothing and mostly succeeds.

But let’s not be too hard on her. She has one of the toughest jobs in the White House. She is trying to please her boss the President while seeking to placate the ravenous horde of competitive and adversarial reporters.

Her performance is not dissimilar to the press secretaries who preceded her in responding opaquely to stuff their bosses considered toxic. You think reporters covering Clinton and Obama and those presidents had it so good? Clinton’s Mike McCurry and Joe Lockhart had to deal with Whitewater, Judge Starr and impeachment. Obama’s Robert Gibbs, Jay Carney and Josh Earnest had a boss who was thin-skinned, grandiose and indecisive. Clinton and Obama did press conferences (unlike Trump), so at least their press secretaries could gleefully watch them take the heat, a joy denied Ms. Sanders. (Franklin D. Roosevelt gave 300 press conferences in his first year in office but to a very small number of reporters.)

While Trump’s distaste for certain reporters and their publications is over the top and much more dangerous to our freedom, previous Presidents generally shared the view that they are all up to no good. President George W. Bush in an open-mike aside to Vice-President Cheney called David Sanger of the New York Times an “asshole.” When I asked a household name public official why he had to give a particular news conference, he replied, “I have to feed the beast.”

Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York blasted reporters daily (sometimes hourly) in a combination of New York kvetch and high dudgeon. He was thrilled to publicly report that books written by reporters were quickly “remaindered” on the dollar table. Mayor Mike Bloomberg invariably addressed individual reporters as “Sir” and “Miss” even though he knew their names.

Unique to Ms. Sanders’ experience, however, is a president who has a daily press offering of his own via Twitter that she finds out about at the same time everyone else does. And Trump’s twitterama is embellished with capitalizations, non-sequiturs and errors of fact that she has to try to explain.

She tries to interpret Trump’s remarks as though she was translating Sanskrit but when that doesn’t work she compliments his pithy directness as a balm to the “American people” (who they?) thereby sidestepping the issue of what he actually said.

The scene at the daily briefings is the briefing room full of reporters waiting around. Sanders enters through a sliding door, trailed by staff. A staffer to the left of the podium has a parabola microphone that she expertly aims at reporters when they speak; this is the same equipment used on TV that picks up the “unnh!” sound of tennis players as they serve.

Ms. Sanders starts out reading written announcements that praise or condemn whatever is on for the day.

After calling on a reporter, she listens to the question (or comment) with her head down, scanning the podium as though she had mislaid something. Eye contact is intermittent. The process of an uninformative briefing has begun.  Occasionally she reads a prepared answer to a question.

Here are some typical (and actual) answers to the questions. The reader is invited to figure out which questions might go with these answers.

“I have no personnel announcements today.”

“We do not comment on personnel matters.”

“I would refer you to the President’s lawyers.”

“I haven’t discussed that with him. If I find out, I’ll let you know.”

“We do not respond to scurrilous and irresponsible leaks.”

“The President has complete faith in __________.”

“I’ve already answered that four times.”

“That’s what the President was elected to do.”

“I do not answer hypotheticals.”

“I do not agree with your premise, so there is nothing to answer.”



Give Sarah Huckabee Sanders a break. She has a tough job.