The takeaway from the news briefing by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders Friday? 1. Trump chief of staff John Kelly stands by his statements of the previous day that are proven wrong by actual video, and 2. No one may question Kelly because he used to be a four-star army general. Sanders, who engages in the worst kind of “don’t believe your lyin’ eyes (or ears)” briefing is now in Sean Spicer territory when it comes to truthfulness and believability.
Sanders certainly got off to a better start than Spicer. Not coming out and blatantly lying with a claim easily proven false is a pretty low bar. Spicer’s now infamous claim that the Trump inauguration was the most witnessed “ever, period” had him on the defensive from day one.
Sanders’ total dedication to never say “We were wrong” is obviously demanded by her boss. So it’s easy to see how she falls into the defend-at-all-cost approach. However, that it’s no excuse for what was a claim that goes against the very essence of the First Amendment.
On Thursday, Chief of Staff John Kelly, in what were at time emotional remarks, explained why President Trump told a Gold Star widow her husband knew what he signed up for—he made sense. (Trump of course, just hours later, reverted to denying he said what Kelly had explained away.)
However, he then launched into an attack on the congresswoman who had heard the comments that Kelly had just put into context. He called her “an empty barrel.” Ok, I thought, Kelly has credibility. Maybe she is an empty barrel. Kelly then tore into Congresswoman Federica Wilson (D-Flor.), saying he was “stunned” when, at the dedication of a new FBI field office in Florida, she took to the stage and claimed credit for securing the funding for the facility. Perhaps Kelly didn’t remember things right. Maybe he didn’t count on there being video of the event. Either way, he was wrong.
Wilson did speak at the dedication in question but she did not claim credit for the funding. In fact, she praised the slain FBI agents for which the building was named, did claim some (deserved) credit for the naming of the building, but gave credit for the funding to Republican then-Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Then, Friday, cue press secretary Sanders. When she was pushed by a reporter whether Kelly would return to correct the record, she was incredulous.
As a journalist by training, I am highly offended that Ms. Sanders believes John Kelly—in the highly political position of chief of staff to the president—can’t be questioned because he is a former four-star general. Not only is it permissible to question what he says, it is the responsibility of a free press to do so. What is “highly inappropriate” is for Sanders to suggest otherwise.
Sanders tried to put the genie back in the bottle with an email to CNN. “Of course everyone can be questioned. But after witnessing General Kelly’s heartfelt and somber account, we should all be able to agree that impugning his credibility on how best to honor fallen heroes is not appropriate,” she wrote.
Here’s the problem with that. No one was impugning his credibility on how to best to honor fallen heroes. Reporters were questioning his comments about US Rep. Wilson, his calling her “an empty barrel, and what she said at the FBI field office dedication.
For the record, as is often the case, Trump himself is guilty of doing exactly what his press secretary says is “highly inappropriate.”
General John Allen, who I never met but spoke against me last night, failed badly in his fight against ISIS. His record = BAD #NeverHillary
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2016
How can General Martin Dempsey tell Obama that delaying the Syria bombardment will have no consequences? He is no Patton or MacArthur.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2013
We don’t have the leadership, including the Generals (who just said the element of surprise does not matter) to attack anyone! Cool it.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2013
The biggest concern is that this type of thing happens so much, the public is desensitized to it. There are so many lies, so much misdirection, so much hypocrisy on a daily basis, one more just doesn’t seem to matter.