Business

Sarah Sanders' legacy: The death of the White House press briefing

Posted June 13, 2019 4:53 p.m. EDT

— Sarah Sanders' primary legacy as White House press secretary was the death of the daily press briefing.

In her nearly two years as Trump's top liaison with the press, Sanders shortened the on-camera briefings and then did away with them altogether.

Her most recent quarrel with the press in the briefing room was back on March 11 -- and that session was only 14 minutes long.

Now she is stepping down from her post, according to a tweet from President Trump on Thursday. It is unknown whether she will hold another on-camera briefing or not.

And it is also unclear who will take over her off-camera duties, which include issuing statements and answering questions from reporters in informal settings.

But it will be a surprise if a future Trump White House press secretary brings back the daily briefing.

The format served presidents and the press well for decades. But Trump and Sanders ultimately decided it was not in their personal interest to provide the same level of transparency as past administrations.

Trump tweeted in January, "The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the 'podium' much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press. I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway!"

His words get out anyway -- but the briefing has historically served other functions. Reporters have been able to ask about government agency decisions, controversies, and the president's view of important national and international issues.

Sanders and Trump defended the dearth of briefings by saying that the White House is accessible in lots of other ways. Press advocates responded by saying that tweets and TV interviews and informal Q&As are no replacement for formal, scheduled sessions.

Press briefings matter for both symbolic and practical reasons. Symbolically, televised briefings show that the White House is open for business and willing to answer questions. And on a practical level, briefings are an efficient way for the administration to address a numerous topics and engage with a wide variety of news outlets.

Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart recently pointed out that briefings forced a certain amount of discipline and preparation in his press shop during the Clinton years.

Sanders, like Trump, developed a reputation for misleading the press -- and Robert Mueller's report contained proof that she lied to the faces of reporters during briefings in 2017.

Sanders simply made it up when she said that "countless" FBI agents had told her that they were thankful Trump had fired James Comey.

Sanders made similar claims multiple times on two different days. She admitted to Mueller's investigators that the claims were "not founded on anything," but sad it was merely a "slip of the tongue."

So does the death of the press briefing matter, given the Trump White House's tendency to lie? Yes.

"Even if she just lies, she will lie on camera and she will lie on tape," Lockhart said on "Reliable Sources" last month. And "the questions matter," regardless of the answers.

Indeed, many reporters criticized the White House for cutting back on briefings, and encouraged Sanders to be more accessible. But there was little more they could do.

Last month, reporters noticed that there was literally a coating of dust on the press briefing room podium. That is Sanders' legacy.