Today’s presser offered a signal that the White House has become more adept at flipping the news cycle. NBC News and other outlets began noting yesterday that Donald Trump has not yet released any information on how he will fulfill his campaign pledge to donate his presidential salary to charity. With his second monthly payday coming up, the media began buzzing whether Trump would really keep his promise. MSNBC’s Ari Melber even wrote to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin last week looking for answers to this pressing question.
Earlier today, Sean Spicer responded to the question today by making the media a player in the process — and as it turns out, a cynical player at that. The president needs some advice as to which charity should receive the largesse, he explained in the press briefing, and would reporters like to offer a few suggestions?
“The way that we can avoid scrutiny is to have the press corps determine where it should go,” the White House press secretary added, drawing laughs from the crowd. “In all seriousness his view is he made a pledge to the American people.”
“He wants to donate it to charity, and he’d love your help to determine where it should go.”
The media didn’t see that one coming, nor did one person think through their response to it:
When someone in the room suggested “journalism scholarships,” Spicer responded “that would be a great way.”
Hmmmm. With all of the charitable causes to support that help people on the margins, the first response from the briefing room was … to benefit their own industry? Call this one a missed opportunity, at the very least. With all of the focus on Trump’s travel “ban,” a smarter response would have been to suggest a refugee charity (and there are plenty out there, too, especially for Christians in Iraq), or maybe tweak the White House with a suggestion to fund the ACLU. The laughter and joking response spoke to the lack of seriousness in this story line even among the media that’s been pushing it over the last couple of days. Now when it comes up again, Spicer can just flip it back to the media and ask whether they’ve started to take the question seriously.
Even with all that said, the White House had better take its choice of charity seriously, and perhaps rethink the timing of the project. Each monthly check is a little over $33,000, which would be a boon for smaller charities that target specific problems. The Trump administration is opting for one news cycle in the Christmas holiday doldrums for its charitable award, when it could have twelve news cycles throughout the year when people are paying more attention and the White House can use the distraction. This is a media-management no-brainer, especially since the media has already shown itself so invested in the story.