Bullies in the White House Press Corps

Of all the post-2016 credibility casualties—the Clintons, the FBI, Hollywood, professional athletes, late-night comedians—the American news media is the most bloodied.

After fluffing Barack Obama for a decade—so much so that the former president still claims with a straight face that his presidency was scandal-free—the press is going after the Trump White House with a level of malice and animus that borders on abuse.

In its servile, vainglorious attempt to score points with each other and feed an insatiable Trump-hating constituency, the media has participated in a shameful degradation of an institution that was once viewed as a critical American liberty. Newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and cable news outlets CNN and MSNBC, have done most of the heavy lifting—particularly in fueling one side of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, which includes reporting illegally leaked classified information to damage anyone in Trump’s orbit.

Not only has their collective political coverage been deemed overwhelmingly negative by objective observers (a study by Harvard University last year concluded, “Trump’s coverage during his first 100 days set a new standard for negativity”), the professional conduct of individual reporters and cable news hosts has been—to borrow a term they embrace for others—deplorable. Any pretense of objectivity is gone; professionalism and common courtesy is nowhere to be found. One only has to watch a White House press briefing for evidence.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the first mother to hold the title, is under assault daily by mean-spirited, if not downright childish, reporters who are more interested in playing a game of “gotcha” with her and preening for the camera than in delivering news to the public. Two correspondents—CNN’s April Ryan and Jim Acosta—are particularly bombastic, if not abusive, towards Sanders.

No Such Thing as a Stupid Question? The Ryan Refutation
Ryan, bureau chief for the American Urban Radio Networks and a CNN political analyst, seems bent on making a name for herself with her outrageous conduct. (She is writing a
 book about covering the Trump White House.) Ryan is rude, arrogant, and petulant. Her questions are quasi-lectures; her media interviews, self-serving and smug.

Over the holidays last year, she spent days on social media, mocking Sanders’ Thanksgiving pie and accusing her of not baking it. (Yes, that really happened.) Before a rambling soliloquy about the history of the Civil War, Ryan asked, “Does this administration believe, does this president believe, slavery was wrong?” Sanders responded, “It is disgusting and absurd to suggest that anyone inside of this building would support slavery.” Ryan asked Sanders after the FBI raid on Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, if the president had thought about stepping down.

(Contrast this with Ryan’s hard-hitting questions of Obama spokesman Josh Earnest, such as whether there is life on other planets or if the president was holding a pack of cigarettes in a photo. In a pre-election interview in 2016, Ryan said she thinks Obama will be remembered as one of the greatest presidents and if he isn’t, it will be because of his race.)

In a particularly unprofessional display last month, Ryan demanded Sanders “focus” on her (flailing her hands around her face until Sanders acknowledged her); she then proceeded to mock public statements by Rudy Giuliani and said Sanders was “blindsided” by Giuliani’s comments. When Sanders corrected her, pointing out she had not used those words (Ryan then backpedaled—“Well I said it; you were blindsided”), the press secretary shot back, “You don’t know much about me in terms of what I feel and what I don’t.”

Then the bully turned herself into a victim. Ryan later appeared on CNN to whine about being Sanders’ “whipping post” and remarkably said this:

For her to say . . . you don’t know me, in certain quarters, in this nation, that starts a physical fight. I was shocked. It was street. I will go beyond that, it was gutter and there is no world, no place for that. You know what, she can be mad at what I say right now. Tough. Was I a little upset about it? Yes, I am. I am.

This week was really embarrassing for her. A hyper-agitated Ryan repeatedly interrupted Sanders as she tried to take questions from another reporter and went on a long rant about national anthem protests, claiming it was not about disrespecting the flag. She again portrayed herself as the victim when Sanders called her behavior “rude.”

Perhaps Ryan needs to take a break from her act because the same day, she was caught in a lie about the president being booed at a White House event. In a tweet shared thousands of times, Ryan claimed Trump had been “booed and heckled when he came out to celebrate America.” After several reporters called her out, Ryan deleted the tweet and came up with this dandy:

Could Anyone Be Worse Than April Ryan? The Acosta Proposition
It would take another 3,000 words to address the poor conduct of Ryan’s CNN colleague, Jim Acosta. (The pair relishes their victim/martyr status, lamenting in an 
interview how they’ve received death threats “just for asking questions.”) Acosta’s bad behavior goes back to the day after CNN aired its planted story on the infamous Steele dossier. On January 11, 2017, Acosta yelled at the president-elect and demanded he take a question from the network that he was calling “terrible” and “fake news.”

Acosta relentlessly badgers Sanders, not to get answers, but to showboat for the cameras. He suggested that the White House press corps should boycott press briefings. (Pretty please?) He accuses the White House—and Sanders—of lying, but defends media lies as “honest mistakes.” Acosta asked Sanders whether Trump’s tweet about “breeding” sanctuary cities was meant to be a “derogatory tweet about Latinos in California, that they breed a lot, or that they’re prone to breeding?” Not even the annual White House Easter Egg roll is off limits from Acosta’s bullying tactics.

But this seems to be working for Acosta: He scored an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel last month and was greeted with loud applause from Kimmel’s rabid anti-Trump audience. (Kimmel told him he loved watching Acosta “bust their balls.”) Acosta, in full self-aggrandizing mode, assured Kimmel that “if they’re going to lie to the American people, those lies come with consequences.” He said the White House “screwed themselves” when they moved him to his current seat in the briefing room.

How professional.

There are plenty of other examples aside from Ryan and Acosta. Playboy(?!) correspondent Brian Kareem asked Sanders if she had ever been sexually harassed. CBS News’ Major Garrett suggested Sanders might be in legal trouble over conflicting public statements on the Stormy Daniels case: “Have you been advised not to wade into this to protect yourself from any potential legal exposure by either giving false information or information that won’t be withstood in court?”

So, now reporters think White House spokesmen can be jailed for not telling the truth? If that’s the case, we have a lot of press briefings from 2009-2017 that need immediate legal review.

There is no doubt that Trump has invited some of this hostility himself. But his ruse seems to be lost on folks like Ryan and Acosta, who unwittingly legitimize his point. Newspaper and TV reporters are in the lowest quartile of professions that the American people trust. Regardless of Trump’s attacks on the media, their continued bad behavior will only further diminish their credibility and prove the president right.

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