We Stood Up to the Administration Today Because Free Press is Crucial

On June 27, 2017, the White House Press Office sent out its daily guidance telling us of significant events the next day. A press briefing was not among them, but we were promised notification by the following morning. 

The mood inside the White House press room has been on “simmer” since the president returned from his first foreign trip, because rumors have persisted about staffers coming and going. On-camera briefings have slowed to a trickle. But Tuesday morning, we were informed we would be on camera and Sean Spicer would show up with Rick Perry to discuss energy and other issues. Healthcare was sure to be addressed as the CBO score had come out and 22 million people, it was estimated, could lose their healthcare under the Senate’s plan.

So, I went to the White House to ask about healthcare. The president told us in a briefing last week—in a question I posed—that he was happy with the bill and would veto legislation if he, theoretically, didn’t like it.

Meanwhile, Spicer traveled to the Hill to apparently speak to someone who wasn’t in the press corps and we waited (again) for the briefing to begin. I usually wait until we’re 20 to 25 minutes overdue and poke my head into the press office and ask them to get a move on. The lower press people don’t like this, but I think it’s incredibly rude to keep 100 people waiting. Just make the time for the briefing later—I’m fine with that. But please, as my Southern parents taught me, if you commit to be somewhere on time—then do it. This administration rarely does.

Spicer, as it turns out, could not get back in time to do the briefing, so Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up with Perry. I got to ask Perry the question I wanted and even followed up on a question Jeff Mason from Reuters asked regarding climate change. Though Perry told me he couldn’t understand my question, I asked it again and got a response.

Then Sarah Huckabee Sanders stepped up and joked about how long we had to wait and maybe we should just skip the questions. We had been waiting long enough, that’s true, and Perry spent quite a bit of time in an animated and entertaining state. That’s true, too.

Sanders stepped up and the first question came from a Breitbart reporter about a CNN story and the resulting aftermath that led to a retraction and subsequent firings. Sanders was in her element and we got to hear again how the media is at fault, there is a lot of fake media out there, and Sanders urged us all to look at some video – that she admittedly had no idea whether it was true – but if it was, then oh boy, we should see it.

Six months of being bullied by this administration, being told we are the enemy of the people and how the administration supports the First Amendment – just not the people who practice it -- and I’d had enough.

So I confronted Sanders about her statements.

We’re here to ask you questions. You’re here to provide answers.
I told her they were inflammatory and then said, “Any one of us are replaceable. And anyone of us, if we get it wrong, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel or not read us. You’ve been elected to serve for four years at least. There is no option other than that. We’re here to ask you questions. You’re here to provide answers. And what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say, ‘See, once again the President is right and everybody else out here is fake media,’ and everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.”

The president has never admitted one mistake. The current administration sells half-truths and lies like they’re day-old cookies at a bake sale.

The fact is, I like Sarah Sanders. I like Sean Spicer. I like most of the people I’ve met who work in this administration. They’re personable and, as far as I can tell—with a few notable exceptions—decent people.

But I don’t like bullies and I don’t like the entire institution of the press and free speech being castigated for no other reason than we either get stories wrong – which happens, and it should be then responsibly corrected -- or because we report news the president doesn’t like – which seems to happen even more often than getting stories wrong. (Note: Our founder, Hugh Hefner, believes in the First Amendment with all his heart.)

The foundation of a free republic is a free press
. You take the good with the bad and you move on. As I’ve said before, in quoting Larry Speakes: we won’t tell you how to stage the news, so don’t tell us how to report it.

Watch Brian Karem's exchange with Sarah Huckabee Sanders here.

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