Bill Shine Donald Trump Deputy Chief of Staff Communications

Opinion

The Lights Are Off at the White House—But Bill Shine Offers Hope

Last Friday afternoon, as the dust began to settle on the Trump administration’s latest foray into disturbing our senses, reporters found themselves chained to their small desks in the White House basement trying to file the latest reports on the destruction of the Republic.

Trump was crowing about the economy again, how the Democrats are blocking his efforts to make the world great in his image, and he enhanced his frothing vitriol by making scatological comments regarding the  "witch hunt" and "fake news."

Sometime in the early afternoon, a sound came from the press room that could only be described as the caterwauling of a fifth grade class of children looking for a bathroom while overdosing on sugar. A few reporters ran upstairs to see what was going on. Who was in the press room? There was no press briefing scheduled. The president surely hadn’t shown up unannounced in the briefing room to have a conversation with us. Had he?

No. Of course not.

The only breath of fresh air in the last few months has been the addition of Bill Shine, who at least speaks openly with reporters.
A few moments later, a crestfallen reporter told the awaiting basement dwellers a television technician was playing videotape from the morning’s pool spray. The screaming and yelling came from the president’s young press wranglers who were eager to push reporters out of the room. The screaming on tape was so overwhelming many thought a fight had broken out in the White House press room. This is how the unprofessional Trump administration asks reporters to leave a pool spray. It is unprecedented. It is silly. It is childish.

“Game over folks. Last one out please turn out the lights,” came the response from a reporter upon hearing the news.

The White House is officially shut down. No more information will be forthcoming. The press briefings have nearly ceased to exist. The White House staged only three briefings in the entire month of July. They are usually late, short in duration, short on fact, long on denials and they are riddled with so many lies, they are nearly worthless. Still, those briefings were the last thing tethering the president to reality.

Routinely scheduled to back into another event so they can’t go on too long, the briefings have long since been less than entertainment. They are like suffering through an endless lobotomy while having a colonoscopy and both without the benefit of anesthesia.

The president is headed this week for his one billionth visit to Mar A Lago to search for collusion on the back nine where no one can find him and where his staff repeatedly refuses to discuss who, what, when or why is going on with him and his visitors. Press staff say they are just concentrated on getting him to Florida, where he will take an extended weekend vacation from irritating the country and obstructing the investigation into Russian collusion.

Meanwhile, the White House is refusing to release a visitors' log. The administration has cut back on releasing transcripts of telephone conversations with foreign heads of state.

As much as he loves the coverage from FOX and Daily Caller, at the end of the day he cares no more for them than he does CNN. He only cares that he can use them.
The president has never appeared in the briefing room. He has had one open press conference in the United States since he took office and hasn’t bothered to repeat that spectacle for nearly a year and a half. His press people routinely refuse to return email inquiries. Though they claim they have an “open door” policy, when reporters walk into the upper press offices, young press wranglers with perpetual frowns on their face routinely close the doors so you cannot speak with Sarah Huckabee Sanders or anyone else. Phone calls go unanswered and messages ignored.

The only breath of fresh air in the last few months has been the addition of Bill Shine, who at least speaks openly with reporters. What effect he will have on the administration is still to be seen. “I know who the star of the show is,” he told me recently. While press reports in several national publications have been generally unfavorable to Shine, the jury is still out and there is a sliver of hope there for him.

As I said, at least he’ll talk and he is personable and amicable. Those two characteristics are absent among anyone else on the press staff in a senior position—combative and unprofessional being the words most used to describe the rest of that group.
Monday found the president making an appearance in The East Room with Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister of Italy for one of those wonderful two-question press conferences. Trump took a question about shutting down the government from a Daily Caller reporter. (Trump is once again threatening this action if Congress doesn’t give him the money to build his Southern border wall he swore Mexico would pay for.) Then he got a question about Iran from a Reuters reporter. An Italian reporter also asked him what the secret was to economic success so Italy could be made “great again,” and then the press corps was dismissed.

Mind you in the last 24 hours Rudy Giuliani told FOX and CNN that collusion with the Russians isn’t a crime, the "witch hunt" should be disbanded and there was “nothing to see here, move along, move along,” regarding the Mueller investigation. During the short session with reporters, Trump said he’d meet anywhere with anyone. So naturally as he left the stage I asked him if that were true what would it take to sit down with Robert Mueller, whose trial against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort began this week.

He frowned. He turned. He left. Trump said nothing.

Tuesday found the president eager, once again, to escape the confines of his D.C. bunker. Perhaps the water isn’t to his liking—like in Flint, Michigan. Maybe he doesn’t like the electricity or infrastructure—like in Puerto Rico. Maybe it’s the questions, the investigations, the tribulations, the trials or the Democrats. Who knows?

But, he needed a fix. So he was off to Tampa for another rally to tell everyone how great he is, how the press sucks, how the Democrats are the oppressors, how Putin is aces and how life under Trump and only Trump will be glorious and ever wonderful. Shouting "fake news!" and "witch hunt!" like a drunken turrets patient he was off.

He strode past us ink-stained wretches gathered on the South Lawn seemingly willing to take a few questions. He, of course did not. I asked why he was so eager to sit down with Putin but not Mueller. Someone asked about North Korea, 3-D-printed plastic guns, Mueller and Manafort; finally, I shouted at him in my Rodney Dangerfield voice, “Hey come. Talk. Relax,” I said. He smirked. He heard us. He didn’t care. He was gone.

Inside a television technician said I should always question Trump in the Dangerfield voice. Howard Kurtz from the Washington Post and FOX news, there to speak with Mr. Shine, smiled. “Well we do have a special relationship,” I returned with a smile.

But there was little else to smile about this week and there has been little to smile about covering this White House for months.

The White House press briefing has long been the staple of government that keeps people informed. It lets everyone know the White House is open for business and reporting to the American people what our executive branch is doing.
Even if the president is adamant on his rants about fake news, a chant that his faithful seem to love, I must remind everyone that the press briefings include FOX, Daily Caller and many news organizations that have been favorable to the president.

The White House, by not holding them, is telling us the White House is closed for repairs.

The president does not care. As much as he loves the coverage from those outlets, at the end of the day he cares no more for them than he does CNN. He only cares that he can use them.

He was at it again on Wednesday morning, tweeting out for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Mueller investigation as Mueller’s team began the second day of the Manafort trial.

The president is stewing in his own juice. He doesn’t want to talk about the issues, because he’s on the wrong side of many of them.

Suits are proceeding against him—Scott Pruitt and others. The Mueller investigation continues and a high-profile trial has begun in Alexandria, VA against one of his early confidants.

When the issues betray him, he doesn’t want to talk about character, either. His flaws are fodder for memes and a godsend to the people of Saturday Night Live. Satire has never been easier.

The president has reached full froth. How long until he completely explodes, leaving the tattered remains of our democracy behind for the rest of us to clean up?

Ultimately Trump doesn’t care. He’s used to others cleaning up his mess. He fully expects to walk away from this one too—but he’s beginning to see something others have known from the beginning: he’s going to be forced to pay the tab.

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