Not for a good reason, of course, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has made headlines once again. The extraordinary heated exchange between her and CNN's Jim Acosta on her refusal to say the media is not the enemy of the people took an ugly turn when Acosta walked out of the customary weekly White House press briefing in disgust.
"I walked out of the end of that briefing because I am totally saddened by what just happened. Sanders was repeatedly given a chance to say the press is not the enemy and she wouldn't do it. Shameful," Acosta tweeted after this bitter episode.
The fiery exchange started when Acosta followed up on another reporter's previous question about Ivanka Trump's comments that she doesn't agree with her father that the press is the country's enemy. Acosta requested her to say that the press is not the enemy of the people, Sanders instead started reading a prepared statement that encompassed a long list of her personal grievances with the press including how she was cruelly made fun of by stand-up comedian Michelle Wolf's at this year's White House Correspondents' Association's Dinner. Without going into detail of the further exchange between the two, one thing is very much clear, Sanders had already anticipated that the press would surely ask questions about Trump's views on the press at the weekly briefing and she came well prepared, obviously with the consent of President Trump himself, to launch a counter-attack by enlisting all her "sufferings" at the hands of the media.
Though Acosta tried his best to compel her to say something to disavow President Trump's remarks, Sanders was in no mood to show any signs of backing down. In a way, she has made it loud and clear that she stands firmly with her boss.
The fact is that the Americans do not consider Sanders as just a White House press secretary; they perceive her as the main spokesperson and advocate of President Trump – a sort of devotee who can go to any extent to defend every deed of her boss, right or wrong. Indubitably, Sanders is the most illustrious White House press secretary of recent times. There has been a long list of White House press secretaries since Herbert Hoover's presidency in 1929, who mostly kept a low profile, but none, with the exception of her predecessor Sean Spicer, have been able to grab the public and media attention as much as she does now. Eventually, due to his contentious relationship with the media and growing gaffes, Spicer had to vacate his seat for his then deputy, Sanders, who, courtesy her exceedingly egotistical and pugnacious style, has further chiseled the gap between the White House and the press. Her signature stony and stern facial expressions, during her interactions with the White House media corps, have certainly earned her an image of a robotic personality who has only a one-point agenda; no matter what, President Trump is always right and the media is always biased.
Sean Spicer was certainly a different kind of press secretary who never hesitated from indulging in personalized fights with the White House media correspondents. This was a relatively new phenomenon but Sanders has definitely eclipsed Spicer in this domain. Spicer's spell looks pale when viewed against the long list of controversies kicked off by Sanders. Her harsh and often very derogatory remarks have touched a new low that was never seen at the press room podium of the White House. "Your mind is in the gutter" shouted Sanders in one of her press briefings while responding to a question about the resignation of former staff secretary Rob Porter, after two of his ex-wives accused him of abuse. There is an unending list of such instances where Sanders resorted to such dismissive gestures and ready insults. She is perhaps the most known female face of the Trump administration – even more than Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump – and she does her best to truly reflect President Trump's disdain for journalists and the media.
Interestingly, unlike most of the White House spokespersons of the past who were often journalists themselves or associated with the press, bot
h Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders have no journalistic credentials and both have treated the media in similar contemptuous fashion. There are a lot of similarities between the styles of Sarah Sanders and Sean Spicer – giving false statements and facts, unnecessarily defending Donald Trump and bullying the White House press corps. But there is no match for her typical curled-lip sneers that she throws while tackling the pricking questions from the press gallery. The American media has not been merciful toward her either and she has been subjected to all kinds of abhorrent and despicable personal attacks in the media.
The relationship between any White House press secretary and any press corps assigned to cover the White House has always been tense and fractious but the intensity of the existing tension between Sanders and her audience in the briefing room has been unprecedented. A vast majority of Americans, who are mostly distrustful and critical of the press in general, are overwhelmingly siding with the journalists. The problem with Sanders is that the prime point of her job description is to "unequivocally" defend Trump's policies at any cost and she has only one way to do so – in an arrogant and belligerent way. Being the chief spokesperson for Donald Trump, she tries to personify the dictatorial style of her boss and, in the process, she goes overboard on most occasions, resulting in more controversies and more hullabaloos.
Recently, though she has categorically denied this through her tweets, rumors that have started making rounds in Washington that she is planning to leave the job. The detractors of Sanders will keep growing unless she tones down her cantankerous style. But, for the time being, she appears to be the least bothered about the hate element that has seeped into the anti-Trump media camp.
* Freelance columnist based in Karachi, Pakistan