In a surprising development, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be the guest of honor for a farewell celebration hosted by White House reporters. This is an interesting turn of events. We are all painfully aware of the treatment President Trump’s press secretary has been subjected to during her tenure. It is surprising to read that a couple of White House correspondents are inviting other reporters and some White House staff to toast her with farewell drinks as she ends her time behind the press secretary’s podium.
HuffPost claims to have obtained a copy of the email sent out to other reporters by White House reporter for Politico, Anita Kumar. DailyMail.com’s Francesca Chambers is also planning the gathering. The date is June 24 and the place is an upscale D.C. restaurant.
The decision to plan the casual shindig is notable, considering Sanders’ often adversarial relationship with the press. During Sanders’ tenure as press secretary, the once-regular White House briefings became increasingly rare. In April, the Trump administration set a White House record when it went 43 days without hosting a press briefing. Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said then that he had been pushing Sanders for more regular briefings to little avail.
That same month, the long-awaited report from special counsel Robert Mueller provided hard evidence that Sanders lied at a White House press conference in 2017 when she claimed the administration had “heard from countless members of the FBI” who’d lost faith in former FBI Director James Comey.
Sanders later told Mueller’s office that the comment had been a “slip of the tongue” and that the assertion, which she’d supposedly heard from “rank-and-file FBI agents,” was “not founded on anything,” according to the special counsel’s report.
Kumar, a board member of the White House Correspondents’ Association, described the event as a “casual gathering for reporters who have engaged with Sarah, many of whom have done so for years.” Francesca Chambers is the WHCA’s treasurer. However, WHCA President Olivier Knox wants it to be made crystal clear that this is not normal behavior of the association and the group is not officially involved.
When questioned by HuffPost, Kumar justified the gesture saying it is “quite common, regardless of administration ― as many Huffington Post reporters know and have frequented.” Both the HuffPost piece and Olivier Knox deny the normalcy of such an invitation. You would think this is an earth-shaking development – that a press secretary is wished well as she leaves her employment at the White House. Only in Trump’s America is this something that causes heartburn from the White House reporters. Does anyone think that any of the Obama administration’s press secretaries were not treated to back-slapping and adult beverages in social situations with reporters? From all appearances, they were all one big happy family, especially since the press gave Barack Obama eight years of softball interviews and rarely held him accountable for anything.
I have no doubt that the two White House correspondents will be on the receiving end of some blowback from the hyper-partisan press corps. It is possible for reporters to be civil to the press secretary even if they don’t agree with her professional decisions, like not holding regular press briefings. Anita Kumar has the right idea that conversation can’t hurt.
“The challenges between the administration and the White House press corps are well documented and, in some cases, ongoing,” Kumar said. “I generally believe that part of the remedy to those challenges is to engage in conversation rather than to avoid it.”
This is how it is in 2019. A gracious gesture among colleagues is questioned and misunderstood because above all else, #OrangeManEvil and Sanders runs her shop as she and President Trump want to do. Daily White House press briefings only became the norm in recent history. Now that they are televised, it’s clear that the reporters perform for the cameras and escalate their behavior in hopes of producing a sound bite for the 24/7 cable news cycle.
If Sarah Huckabee Sanders was a Democrat woman working for a Democrat president, she’d be lauded as a ground-breaking press secretary. She is the first working mom to do the job. Instead of celebrating her strength and grace under pressure, she is relentlessly mocked and treated as someone who is not worthy of being on the receiving end of civil behavior. She has been kicked out of restaurants solely because of the job title she holds. That hasn’t happened to previous press secretaries. Reporters frequently treat her as less than human.
Kudos to Sarah for hanging in there as long as she has done for this administration. A little civility goes a long way, especially in today’s divided environment. She can return to Arkansas and enjoy more time with her husband and young children. Who knows? She may end up the next governor.