Tucked within a fresh New York Times Magazine piece by Mark Leibovich about the White House press office is a gem of an encounter between the author and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The pair met in Sanders’ West Wing office a day after Rudy Giuliani’s free-associative performance on Sean Hannity. And Sanders, who had just finished a briefing in which reporters openly questioned her credibility, claimed that she is doing the best she can at providing accurate information:
“It certainly bothers me,” she said of the “liar” rap. “Because one of the few things you have are your integrity and reputation.” She added that “there’s a difference between misspeaking or not knowing something than maliciously lying.”
Fact check: True. And Sanders here hints at Serious Journalists’ reservations about pointing out that difference. We can’t know what’s in her heart, can we??? To take this logic a step further: She’s no liar, but rather the most poorly informed White House press secretary in recent history, if not ever. At least she’s trying!
This bid for the media’s benefit of the doubt is appealing in that it suggests Sanders and her fellow Merry Pranksters are capable of redemption. But regardless of whether they’re truly making the decision to lie—see the intentionality there?—they’ve also proven that they’re unaware of the truth, unable to find it, and unwilling to relay it. Sanders hasn’t exactly been a beacon of personal responsibility in her opportunities to communicate factually, and yet there she was, chatting up a New York Times reporter about attacks on her reputation:
No one would argue that a person’s integrity isn’t of paramount importance, I said. But I asked Sanders if there is a danger in linking your integrity to a president who might not always be known for accuracy. There have been many instances where the president has not told the truth, I said.
“But you’re asking about me,” Sanders said, not challenging the premise.
True, I said, but she has to speak for him. I asked the question another way: “Is it possible to be factual if you’re speaking for someone who is trying to make a point that is not factual?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” Sanders said. “I’m not following totally.”
That is the tell. And for those acquainted with Sanders’ body of work, the willful ignorance is familiar: How many minutes of a press briefing go by without some variation of “I haven’t talked to the president about that,” or “You’ll have to ask someone else”? If we assume, for a moment, that those are good-faith non-answers, they mean that Sanders is merely failing at a core part of her powerful and well-compensated job, and apparently avoiding every opportunity to change. The repetition of it all connotes the same sort of final, negative judgement of her integrity as the L Word That Must Not Be Spoken.