When approaching a growling dog wagging its tail, which end do you believe?
That’s the conundrum facing reporters in the White House press corps as the new administration works its way into a second month in office.
On the one hand we have a president calling the media the enemy while Tuesday press secretary Sean Spicer told assembled reporters the president has a “Deep respect for the First Amendment and the press.”
I’m still watching the end of the dog with the teeth – for the record. The first question during Tuesday’s press briefing addressed this issue, but wasn’t followed up on – partly because Spicer didn’t point his finger in my direction. He did say "certain outlets," bother the president, but went into little detail otherwise.
I want to know exactly who the president views as his enemy. Is it all of the press corps across the country? Those who voted against him? What if you are a member of the press but voted for him? Are you an enemy then? Is it that he views anyone who doesn’t print or broadcast information with which he agrees is an enemy? Maybe he just means CNN or The New York Times.
How we perceive President Trump is partially due to our inability to get adequate answers and partially because we are not always asking the right questions.
But at the end of the day the administration has a perception problem left over from a brash and bombastic campaign. It’s interesting to witness as the administration lurches forward.
We no longer see large notes on legal pads and in bright red markers being passed into the press room during briefings. We haven’t seen Kellyanne in nearly a week either. Spicer is more controlled, and getting better communicating, but this administration still has problems reconciling facts with certain rhetoric and behavior.
How can you on one hand tell us General H.R. McMaster is the “finest” choice for National Security advisor without acknowledging he wasn’t your first choice? This is no criticism of the general – but is a question anyone would ask. Just clarify. You can’t get mad at that.
Personally I have no doubt the President of The United States isn’t an anti-Semite. But he has inadvertently or purposely thrust those on the far right who hold such views into the national spotlight with some of his actions on the campaign trail and in office. So when he denounces anti-Semitism he needs to address it on more than one occasion and also explain the incongruity between his current actions and previous actions.
Spicer cannot merely tell us the president has addressed this once and therefore put it to bed. This is disconcerting because it speaks to either an arrogance or naivety or a combination of both when it comes to the stage upon which the president finds himself. His pronouncements are not those of Papal or Kingly edict. He is an elected public servant who will have to repeat things more than once for them to sink in adequately - if indeed they ever do. Thus is the life of a public official. It also takes much more than words to put this to bed. In so much that anti-Semitism and prejudice have existed for far longer than our lifetime – how can anyone think merely speaking against something once will end it?
The problem of perception versus reality is a common problem of any administration, but seemingly more so from top to bottom in the first month of this administration - though the President and his staff show signs of getting better.
Then there is this:
Tuesday Glenn Thrush from the New York Times along with myself and a few other reporters stuck around after the daily press briefing to ask whether or not the administration would forward complaints of anti-Semitism attacks to the Department of Justice. We staked out Spicer’s office and were chased away by a young staffer who told us the Secret Service didn’t like us in the hall outside of Spicer’s office. I don’t doubt her, but I once watched Sam Donaldson and probably six or seven reporters stake out that office for hours until a bedraggled spokesman emerged to face the stern countenance of a frothing press – so her admonitions fell on deaf ears.
Thrush mentioned something about us being in the “people’s house” and not the private residence of the current occupant – more to me than anyone else – and then we moved to another door where we caught Spicer leaving and he didn’t answer the question.
Spicer referred us to someone in the “lower press office” who could tell us whether or not the administration intended on forwarding the complaints to the D.O.J.
Then he scooted off to wherever busy press secretaries scuttle themselves when being pursued by stubborn reporters.
A few minutes later the young staffer complained to another staffer and Thrush was apparently accused of cursing at the first staffer – which he never did - though there were ruffled feathers all around.
The staffer felt slighted - but wasn’t. It wasn't personal. This is how the free press works. We ask. We keep asking and we ask some more. Facts are facts. We are messy and we get in the way. When we can't get answers then we get frustrated.
Thrush was frustrated – as I was. I still haven’t had my question answered.
And I notice the dog is still showing its teeth even though it wags its tail vigorously.