Like the final player on the losing side of a dodgeball game, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is doing some pretty fancy ducking and diving. Facing a daily barrage of questions from reporters — much of it keyed to President Trump’s shifting versions of the facts — she has resorted to a stock answer: “We give the very best information that we have at the time.”
In other words, when she says something that proves to be untrue, misleading or uninformed, she shouldn’t be taken to task because she didn’t know any better. Having spent more than forty years dealing with press spokespeople representing everything from local police departments to major corporations to — yes — other presidents, I can assure you this is an entirely inadequate defense.
First, because while press secretaries are all about presenting positive views of the president, that cannot include willful deception. You can say you don’t know the answer to some question. You can say you misunderstood something you were told. You can say you won’t comment. You can say, “Sorry, we’re out of time.” But if you forward an outright lie to voters, you own it. It is now part of your professional reputation, not just the boss’s.
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Second, press secretaries are the public’s most direct link to the inner-sanctums of the White House. That demands responsible, reliable information. The press secretary is supposed to know what is happening, when and why. Sure, some matters may be above the secretary’s pay grade, but that does not excuse habitually promoting false or misleading “facts” then begging off with “I’m giving the best information I have.”
And third, when you repeatedly spout off about things you don’t know (or worse, things you know to be lies) people will learn not to believe you, and then even your truths will become suspect.
Sure, we all make mistakes, but when a reporter habitually gets information wrong — he or she gets gone. With her litany of spurious “facts,” Sarah Sanders would not last a week in a decent newsroom. And saying she was giving it her “best” would be no defense.