Alan Zendell, June 15, 2019
In an administration that has come to be known for lies, alternative facts, and fake news, there has been no better poster child for the Trump brand than Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. It was apparent in her statement immediately following the announcement of her resignation last Thursday. Sanders proudly proclaimed her legacy was one of openness and transparency, while the world, excluding the president’s hard core base was issuing good riddances.
Representative of those who were happy to see Sanders go was David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Barrack Obama. Upon hearing of Sanders’ resignation, Axelrod said her legacy as White House press secretary will be one of “defending the indefensible, and not being truthful with the American people.” While Axelrod is clearly partisan, he has never been a political attack dog, and he has freely criticized Democrats as well as Donald Trump and his staff. Most notably, he recently took Joe Biden to task, seriously questioning the viability of the Democratic frontrunner for the 2020 nomination for President.
White House Press Secretary is a tough job. With someone like Donald Trump in the White House, the degree of difficulty soars by orders of magnitude. To be successful, a press secretary needs to be tough and self-confident. She needs to stand up to the aggressive White House press corps, but balance her strength with civility and at least the appearance of openness. In the opinion of most observers, Sanders did neither. As Axelrod put it, “In this job, she was called upon to choose between her fidelity to Trump and her fidelity to the truth, and she chose Trump.”
She did so not only with her words, even adopting the president’s own pugnacious, in-your-face style. She seemed to have a perpetual sneer on her face whenever the cameras were on her, and to my ears at least, she always spoke with whiny disdain. Unlike her predecessor, Sean Spicer, who was clearly not up to the job and often seemed uncertain and uncomfortable in the role, Sanders always appeared to relish it. Her unquestioned loyalty to the president, while admirable from one point of view, knew no limits in terms of partisanship and lying in his defense.
VICE News recently documented the most flagrant of Sanders’ failures to tell the truth. As we have all seen in recent years, every media outlet is guilty of some degree of bias, but the website “mediabiasfactcheck.com” rates VICE Media as center-left leaning (the lowest level of bias on their seven point scale) and very high in factual reporting.
In case you’ve either given up listening months ago or you just don’t remember, VICE recounted some of Sanders’ most flagrant distortions of the truth. Concerning the firing of James Comey, she asserted that he had completely lost the confidence of the rank and file of the FBI, a lie made up in what she referred to as “the heat of the moment” that was later refuted by the Mueller report. Then she lied, first about whether Trump had paid hush money to a porn star, and later about whether he knew about the payments. When Trump fired Omarosa Manigault-Newman, Sanders claimed that the Trump administration had created more than three times as many jobs for African Americans as the Obama administration. The truth is that more than four times as many African-American jobs were attributed to Obama than to Trump.
The list goes on. Sanders tweeted a video of CNN reporter Jim Acosta that had been altered to make it look like he had assaulted a White House aide. She claimed that 4,000 suspected terrorists had been apprehended trying to enter the United States from Mexico when in fact the number of migrants who appeared on law enforcement watch lists was six (6). She claimed that the Obama administration had wire-tapped the Trump campaign and that Trump had never encouraged political violence at his rallies.
If you view Sarah Sanders as an employee of the President, she did her job impeccably. Trump was her boss, but I would argue that she was first and foremost an employee of the American people whose taxes paid her salary. From that perspective, she was nothing but a shill for Trump, and her obvious antagonism for the press and the First Amendment may have done more to widen the partisan divide in our country than anyone in the Administration except Trump himself.
I happily join those who wish Sarah goodbye and good riddance. Will her successor be any better? Not likely, considering that the only qualification for the job in the Trump White House is unflinching loyalty to the president.