Editor’s Note:The New York Times reported Saturday the White House is considering bringing back the daily briefing in an untelevised format to help the Trump 2020 re-election effort.
What Does it Mean for the White House Press Corps and What Lessons PR Can Learn
Andrew Blum, Principal, AJB Communications
The resignation of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders marks the end of one of the ugliest periods of relations between the press corps and the spokesperson at the podium for the now defunct daily briefings.
No doubt the White House press corps is relieved to see her go. Yet she will be missed by President Trump who is unlikely to hire a fan of the press as her replacement and won’t bring back the daily White House press briefing that was ended under the Sanders watch.
PR people can learn a lot from the Trump-Sanders-Sean Spicer-Kellyanne Conway method of dealing with the press. What doesn’t really work is bypassing the press to live on Twitter and calling the press the enemy of the people, shouting fake news or claiming there are alternative facts to the truth.
The Sanders lesson for PR people is credibility – you always need to keep your credibility with the press and the public, while serving your client. It can be difficult sometimes to both but it can be done.
Sanders lost her credibility almost as quickly as her predecessor Sean Spicer when he tried to snooker the press about the size of President Trump’s inauguration crowd.
She was one of the worst and most combative White House press secretaries in history and showed not an ounce of a sense of humor. No matter the allegation against Trump, she defended him.
Yes, that’s the role of the White House Press Secretary but she outdid even former President Nixon’s Press Secretary Ron Ziegler with her contempt for the press.
He called the Watergate break-in a “third-rate burglary” as he lambasted the Washington Post’s coverage. She sparred with reporters over everything from Stormy Daniels to immigration policy and to the president calling the press the enemy of the people.
As to the daily press briefing – as I write this article, it’s been 95 days and counting of no briefing. What does this mean for the future of these long-standing and important televised briefings?
The Trump administration has so much disdain for the press, these will never resume while he is in the White House. But if a Democrat is elected in 2020, I can see their returning.
In one of the more memorable exchanges in 2018 when the daily briefings were still held, Sanders lashed into CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. (His new book is called “The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America.”)
Acosta challenged Sanders after Trump said the media was the enemy of the people, asking her to say they were in fact not. Sanders, predictably refused to do so and claimed she had been personally attacked in the media.
They kept going back and forth, to no avail. Acosta stormed out of the briefing room. Shortly thereafter, Acosta lost his credentials to cover the White House, and CNN had to fight to get them back.
But it was also the daily lies that marked the Sanders tenure as press secretary. According to the Mueller report, she lied at the White House podium, saying that after FBI Director James Comey was fired she had heard from “countless members” of the FBI that they had no confidence in them. She admitted lying, saying it was a slip of the tongue and then blamed Democrats.
So, who will replace Sanders? Press reports listed Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley, Stephanie Grisham, first lady Melania Trump’s communications director, former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert and outgoing Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh.
But it wouldn’t be a piece about Sanders and Trump without a mention of Fox News. Fox hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham jokingly suggested two temporary replacements for the Sanders job: themselves.
So, things could get worse before they get better. As bizarre as this sounds, remember who is in charge.
About the Author: Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms