It’s hard to keep track of all the ways in which Donald Trump is eroding long-accepted norms surrounding the US presidency. Attacking foreign allies. Praising foreign enemies. Not telling the truth over and over again – about little things and big things. Raising questions about the validity of US elections. Giving cover to white supremacists.
Amid all of that abnormal behavior, this fact too often gets lost: There hasn’t been a daily press briefing at the White House since March 11. (Thanks to CNN’s Betsy Klein for the official count.)
To put that in context, the last time a White House press secretary briefed the media – these were the big stories:
* Trump was proposing $8.6 billion in funding for his border wall
* California Rep. Adam Schiff was saying it was a mistake for special counsel Robert Mueller not to interview Trump in person
* “Captain Marvel” was crushing at the box office
Heck, back in March, Sarah Sanders was still the White House press secretary! And even though Sanders left that job at the start of the summer, we’ve yet to see her replacement – Stephanie Grisham – do a single press briefing since she was named White House communications director and press secretary in late June. According to The Washington Post, Grisham has done only two off-camera “gaggles” and a single TV interview in that time.
And this isn’t a new development. Prior to that March 11 briefing, it had been 41 days since the previous briefing on January 28. Before that January 28 briefing, Sanders hadn’t done a press briefing in 40 days. So, yeah.
Trump has been dismissive of the need for these daily – or even weekly – briefings since almost the start of his presidency. Sean Spicer, the Trump White House’s first press secretary, held the briefings regularly, but within the span of a few months it became like watching a car crash in slow motion over and over again. When Trump replaced Spicer with Sanders, the briefings slowed. Then Anthony Scaramucci was named communications director and, in a remarkable first appearance behind the podium, he promised a return to more regular briefings. The Mooch was fired 11 days later.
Since then, there has been a slow but steady strangling of the briefing – culminating in Bill Shine’s tenure as White House communications director. Shine, a former chief executive at Fox News, saw one of his main missions as eliminating the daily press briefing, according to CNN reporting. Mission accomplished!
(Side note: The daily press briefing has been a thing since Mike McCurry, Bill Clinton’s White House press secretary, started doing them back in 1995. That tradition continued through the Bush and Obama years.)
Now, for those – and I know you’re out there! – who say: What difference does it make? Trump talks to the media all the time! – I say, well, a few things.
First, taxpayers pay Grisham’s salary. Just like they paid McCurry’s salary. And Sanders’. Grisham is also not only the White House press secretary but also the communications director for Trump and first lady Melania Trump. She is among the most powerful staffers in the White House. And we never see or hear from her.
Second, the press secretary’s loyalty is, in theory, dual: To the president, yes, but also to the American public. The White House press secretary is tasked with shedding light and context on the activities of the White House – no matter how banal – for the public, using the media as a conduit.
Third, there’s a massive difference between the President of the United States answering (and not answering) questions from reporters whenever the whim strikes him and a daily chance for any reporter to bring up any issue with the official spokesperson of the American government.
The end of the daily press briefing doesn’t drive headlines like Trump’s reported interest in dropping a nuclear bomb into a hurricane or his proposal to buy Greenland. But the long-term damage the move is doing to our democracy is significant – and shouldn’t be forgotten.