There are many who remain skeptical of the daily White House briefings, believing them to be a colossal and ultimately very bad joke. It is hard to argue against the validity of that claim. In that briefing room we’ve seen two different press secretaries tear asunder the truth in such vulgar, menacing fashion it’s possible they’ve convinced the most skeptical scientists that the administration has ripped a hole in the space-time continuum and flung us headlong into an alternative reality.
The anger among some in the public has generated copious amounts of email and snail mail from readers demanding the press abandon the briefings, stage a walk-out and protest. Such a move—while momentarily gratifying for some—would ultimately be ineffective as the press never has and never will act in unison. (I believe that to be one of its virtues.) In the wake of a walkout, a variety of niche outlets would infiltrate the meetings and gladly enjoy the added attention, among other benefits, from a smaller number of attendees.
For concerned individuals, a moment from earlier this year, when I vented my frustration at being berated and lied to everyday by Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her predecessor Sean Spicer, was a great moment wherein they witnessed the press standing up to the administration. It could’ve been anybody who did it, and it only ended up being me because I have a shorter fuse than others for that type of thing. That’s not necessarily a virtue.
Still, some say it was a personal best. I disagree.
When each day is a struggle to obtain information, pushing back against the insanity I find myself facing is not what I would call a successful day—though my ability to vent on June 27, 2017 did keep me sane. The best you can expect in the briefing room with any president is asking a well-informed, honest question and getting a well-informed, honest answer, with neither the question nor the answer containing guile. That said, my personal best day in the Trump White House briefing room under two different press secretaries in the last year came when Sarah Huckabee Sanders walked back to the podium to answer my question regarding the president’s health.
Pushing back against the insanity I find myself facing is not what I would call a successful day.
The December 7th briefing occurred on an exceptionally busy day for the president after a normally chaotic week. The previous evening had been filled with a presidential announcement on national television about Jerusalem, but by Thursday, the president had already zipped past that moment.
During the afternoon briefing, which characteristically began 10 minutes late, Sanders took multiple questions on sexual harassment, John Bolton, the Mueller investigation, the president insulting the FBI, tax cuts and Jerusalem, but no one asked about how Trump had looked on camera while talking about Jerusalem—a popular question littering social media as a concern of the populace. Comments about dentures and dementia were common. With that question unasked and unaddressed, Sanders cruised out of the briefing in her normal fashion after spending less than 20 minutes with us.
“So we’ll see you guys shortly. Thanks,” she said, turning to leave. Naturally, at that point I felt compelled to speak. To be fair, I felt compelled to speak much earlier and did. But this time I got a response. “Sarah,” I said loudly. “Can you at least take one question about his health, after he appeared yesterday—just on his health, how he appeared yesterday?”
Sanders, on her way out the press room’s main door, actually stopped and turned back to us with a smile. “Actually, I’ll break the rules and I’ll come back for that question,” she said. “I know that there were a lot of questions on that—frankly, pretty ridiculous questions. The president’s throat was dry. Nothing more than that.
“He does have a physical scheduled for the first part of next year, the full physical that most presidents go through. That will take place at Walter Reed, and those records will be released by the doctor following that taking place.”
It was apparent Sanders was not only prepared for a question on the president’s health, but had expected it. Despite saying it was a ridiculous question, she took time to answer it, gave verifiable information and did so succinctly. Prior to that question I had received hundreds of inquiries into what was wrong with President Trump. Some were from supporters concerned for him and others from his opposition who weren’t concerned for him. But some emails from even his most ardent detractors had shown empathy for him.
There were also the nuts. One person told me it was obvious the president had picked up a rare far-Eastern toe fungus on his recent travels. Dozens of emails suggested the president had been possessed by aliens, but the majority expressed concern the president has been suffering a series of mini-strokes. They offered a variety of observations to prove the point.
Dealing with this issue squarely is important and I count getting a square answer that can be verified–and one by which Trump has agreed to accountability—as a victory. Small, mind you, but appreciable. You take your wins where you can, and they’re hard to come by.
The White House had its annual press Christmas dinner within the last week. April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks was not invited to the party. Neither was I.
Both of us were fine with it.
I told the New York Times I wore that non-invitation as a badge of honor and felt like I’d made Richard Nixon’s enemies list. You take your victories where you find them. They don’t like me. I’ll live.
I don’t feel like socializing with a group of people who continually say those of us in my profession are “enemies of the people.”
The fact is I don’t feel like socializing much with a group of people who continually say those of us in my profession are “enemies of the people” and snake-oil salesmen peddling “fake news,” when the fact is I feel they’re staring at themselves in a mirror every time I hear them make those accusations.
Tweeting faked anti-Muslim videos, as the president has, does not raise the level of the discussion on an important issue, as Sanders has claimed. Putting the screws to minorities, the poor, the middle class, members of the LGBT community and anyone else who doesn’t own a private jet and donates millions to Trump’s coffers doesn’t make me want to spend any more time with you than necessary. Approving the move of Israel’s capital to Jerusalem in part to satisfy evangelical Christians who believe doing so will help bring about the Rapture makes me want to get the butterfly net and haul you away.
With the physical and mental wellbeing of our current president under scrutiny for everything from his diet of Big Macs to his disturbing tweets and bizarre actions that resemble Richard Nixon on the brown acid from Woodstock, one not only welcomes Sander’s announcement regarding the president’s physical, but it leaves many of us wondering why he has to wait so long. He’s the president. Couldn’t he get a better appointment?
If not, then we really do need to overhaul the health care system. No one—not even the president—should have to wait a month to get a physical when they’re exhibiting the bizarre behavior Trump has shown.
Maybe he just needs a day off and a care package. After all, Christmas is coming. Who knows what Mueller will bring the president for the holidays.