Here is a good story, for a change of pace. The reporting is that the goodbye gathering Monday night for White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was a success. The turn-out of guests was good and the atmosphere was jovial.
“I’m really happy with the turnout,” said Anita Kumar, a White House correspondent for Politico, who hosted the party with Francesca Chambers, a White House correspondent for Dailymail.com. Ms. Kumar added that “with this administration, we haven’t had a lot of opportunities to interact with the people we cover.”
By 7 p.m., some 50 people piled in, knocking back beer and bar nuts. Presidential punching bags from The Washington Post and Reuters mingled with Trumpian camarilla including Hogan Gidley, the deputy press secretary, and Mercedes Schlapp, the director of strategic communications.
When the story broke that two members of the White House Press Corps were planning a social get-together for drinks to say goodbye to Sarah, some predictable vitriol rose up. The list of those in the press who received an invitation wasn’t made public but that didn’t stop some ugly reactions. April Ryan, for example, told Newsweek “I won’t be there!” She even posted an angry video on her Instagram account about Sarah’s goodbye.
“Sarah Huckabee, have your party. I won’t be there. Girl, bye.” I won’t bore you with the video but here’s a little bit of the dialogue – it sounds as though she is particularly upset that Sanders didn’t hold a press briefing about the escalating tensions with Iran. As usual, Ryan makes it all about Ryan. “We deserve better.”
Serious issues of life and death, serious issues of war, and this administration chooses not to brief the American public. Shame. Everything comes to the White House from war to peace and everything in between, and there was potential war, and no one stood at that podium to explain to the American public what was going on. And we see it in a tweet. We deserve better.
While some of the hyper-partisan correspondents made a point to get their disapproval of the party on the record (it’s always about themselves, you know), most thought it made sense to take a rare opportunity to socialize with White House sources. It is their job, after all, to cover stories from the White House and maintaining a professional relationship with sources is an essential part of the job. And there were drinks promised.
Jonathan Karl, the chief White House correspondent for ABC News, said that “the job of a White House correspondent is to talk to White House officials.”
Still, some fretted about the optics. The tango between the press and politicians in the capital is always complex, but that relationship borders on toxic in the Trump era. Even for clubby Washington, it could be a bad look to clink glasses for a woman who rode shotgun for a president who refers to the media with a Stalinist epithet.
Ironic, right? There were members of the press that voiced concern that it might not be a good look for them to attend. Do they not realize that journalists are not exactly held in high regard? Also, like everything else these days, opinions about the press fall along party lines, according to Gallup.
All party groups’ trust in the media hit record lows in 2016 and has increased in the past two years. Democrats’ trust surged last year and is now at 76%, the highest in Gallup’s trend by party, based on available data since 1997. Independents’ trust in the media is now at 42%, the highest for that group since 2005. Republicans continue to lag well behind the other party groups — just 21% trust the media — but that is up from 14% in 2016 and last year.
Republicans have typically placed less trust in the media than independents and especially Democrats, but the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. The current 55-percentage-point gap is among the largest to date, along with last year’s 58-point gap. President Donald Trump’s attacks on the “mainstream media” are likely a factor in the increasingly polarized views of the media. Republicans agree with his assertions that the media unfairly covers his administration, while Democrats may see the media as the institution primarily checking the president’s power.
Civility is a good thing, said former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
“I think it’s perfectly appropriate to have a going-away party for the press secretary,” he said. “It’s what polite people do with each other. You can still clash. You can still differ. You can still be professionals who hold the administration to account and go to a goodbye party together.”
The press and their cohorts in the Democrat Party have escalated the usual amount of tension between those who cover the White House and those who work in the White House to new heights. It’s even worse than it usually is for a Republican president. President Trump gives them the same amount of respect that they give him. The White House press has been particularly brutal to Sarah. She has been mocked for her personal appearance, and run out of restaurants. Professional entertainers have dehumanized her for sport. Journalists have become the story (looking at you, Jim Acosta) and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.