Saturday, March 9, 2019

Trump replaces WH press briefing with Trumpaganda

The people have a right to the truth illuminated by a free press. But Trump and his administration is cloaking our democracy in a shroud of darkness.

These days, Trump (and his administration) does not admit to the many questions floating about our political mediaverse let alone provide answers. Susan B. Glasser (New Yorker) reports that The “Enemies of the People” Have a Few Questions for the President. The White House press briefing is dead. It was awful, but we should still mourn it. Here are some snippets.

The Administration, of course, never formally announced that it was killing off the White House press briefing—that would have caused too great an outcry. But that is nonetheless what it has done, as Trump himself admitted in a January tweet, saying that “the reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the ‘podium’ much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately.” The last official briefing by Sanders was on January 28th; it was the first such briefing in forty-one days. All told, there was one press briefing in November, one in December, two in January, and none at all in February, or, so far, in March. This is not just a White House policy. The State Department, which used to give a near-daily press briefing that was considered significant by journalists from around the world, had six “department press briefings” briefings in November, two in December, none in January, two in February, and one so far in March.

This is not how it should work in a democracy, and there is no explanation other than a bad one for why this is happening. The Administration’s elimination of regular on-the-record press briefings is part of a broader war on truth and transparency by a President who will go down as the most publicly mendacious American leader we’ve yet had. (Trump’s epic speech at cpac over the weekend was both the longest and, according to the Washington Post Fact Checker, the most untruthful of his tenure, clocking in at more than two hours and approximately a hundred lies, misstatements, and falsehoods.)

… we are talking about the difference between asking questions in a flawed setting and not asking them at all. In this situation, I mourn the briefing’s untimely death. This week, amid a veritable flood of Trump news about which the Administration has not bothered to comment or been forced to answer questions, the long, annoying, contentious press briefings of old are genuinely missed.

Under previous Presidents, a weekday briefing might last an hour, with dozens of inquiries and replies, many of them factual. There is essentially none of that now, at a time when there is so very much to ask about. Consider that the President declared the country to be in a state of emergency at the southern border, back on February 15th. White House aides held a call with reporters to announce it, but they were unable to answer many questions, which have remained unaddressed. How, exactly, does Trump intend to use emergency powers to transfer money from the defense budget to pay for his proposed border wall? Which accounts will be tapped, and when? At the expense of which other projects? Where is the memorandum from his lawyers arguing that this is constitutional? By what government process, rather than the President’s personal pique at Congress, was the “emergency” determination made?

And that was just a sample of the questions that the Trump machine dodges.

I have questions, many of them. I’m sure you do, too. I would love for the White House press corps to be able to ask them on our behalf.

On Thursday, I asked two dozen accredited White House correspondents from America’s leading news organizations—television, radio, print, and wires—what questions they would ask Sanders this week if she had chosen to have a briefing. …

… [one] correspondent wrote, “The absence of the daily briefing is creating a void in public awareness of and interaction with the WH. The benefit of the briefing is that it forces the WH to deal with follow-up questions. Though Trump is quite accessible, follow-ups are rare and daily interactions, though frequent, are understandably driven by the day’s most pressing news. That limits the scope of questions and allows the WH to duck plenty of issues and defend its overall approach.”

A particularly thoughtful response came in from the Associated Press’s Washington bureau chief, Julie Pace. “I canvassed my team and we came up with about 20 right off the bat—which goes to show how many unanswered questions there are out there,” she wrote. … The questions she forwarded were fair, relevant, and barely even cover the long list of stories about Trump and his Administration that should demand our attention …

I asked [Sarah Huckabee] Sanders in an e-mail for her comment on whether this is now the death of the White House press briefing, and whether she wanted to respond to any of the questions the correspondents had sent to me. She did not respond.

In the absence of previously normal press briefings, there is a vacuum that is filled by Trumpaganda. Are you left with any doubt about whether Trump’s enmity towards the truth is the true enemy of the people?

And while you are considering that question consider the Washington Post’s motto: Democracy Dies in Darkness.

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