Today marks 100 days since Donald Trump's last press briefing. This is why it matters

If Trump is so sure the media are writing 'fake news', why not get Sarah Sanders — or whoever will be her replacement — to challenge them in the briefing room?

Chris Stevenson
Wednesday 19 June 2019 18:08 BST
Trump pledges to cure cancer, eradicate AIDs and send astronauts to Mars

For 100 days the White House hasn't held a formal, televised press briefing — and Donald Trump's 2020 election campaign launch proved why he sees no need for them.

The roughly 80-minute rally featured a myriad of false claims, exaggerations, and bashing of the press and Trump's Democrat opponents from the president, his family and a number of other speakers.

Trump sees himself as the communicator-in-chief: he doesn't need to play nice with reporters when he can take his message right to the people at the podium or via Twitter. The fact that his press representative is not being held accountable face-to-face every day by journalists gives Trump leave to ignore them as background noise.

At rallies, the press can’t answer back; on Twitter, the president is hardly going to engage in a testy dialogue with unsympathetic media. And the simple fact is that without the ability to engage, put someone on the spot and get them to admit they are wrong or issue a clarification — even better if it is on camera — all we have are two sides shouting into respective voids.

It works both ways. If Trump is so sure the media are writing "fake news”, why not get Sarah Sanders — or whoever will be her replacement — to challenge them in the briefing room? He won’t, of course, because the current arrangement allows him to mislead without any repercussions. Trump knows his ardent supporters will ignore fact-checks whether written, tweeted, spoken about on cable news or any other medium.

The president's key support base is in it for the long-haul, so Trump knows he can send his message directly to their phone, computer and television screens and they will see little else. The retweets will roll in, and the video clips will roll around the internet doing the job a press secretary would usually do.

On Tuesday night, for example, he wildly claimed that Democrats are for completely "open borders" — they aren't — while weaponising the "no collusion" element of the Mueller report on Russia and leaving the issue of at least 10 instances of possible obstruction, which Trump denies, hanging.

Trump also claimed that "our air and water are the cleanest they've ever been by far," when actually air pollution is increasing according to the American Lung Association. Trump's administration has also systematically removed Barack Obama-era rules on reducing the impact of fossil fuels, which is sure to have an effect. And as for water, the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan still hasn’t been solved. It’s hard to believe that water can be “the cleanest it’s ever been” when that continues in the background.

Those are just some of the times the president — at best — exaggerated his impact and at worst lied about it. The media can, and must, hold just statements up to the light — and given how few times the administration now crosses paths with journalists in a way that allows frank debate, we should all be worried.

Trump's message will always reach his supporters; in fact, he tweeted in January that he told Sarah Sanders "not to bother" with formal White House press briefings as "word gets out anyway". The damage done to the role of press secretary in the last two-and-a-half years has been significant, and the longer the silence continues, the more it plays into Trump's hands.

In the current climate, where political discourse is divided down huge fault-lines, much of the media is also struggling at times to reach those Trump supporters. The president knows what he needs to do to win in 2020: bring out the same people as 2016. As well as the Democrats, it is the media that needs to make inroads into reaching his base, and after years of “fake news” chatter, they will likely struggle.

Trump does not need to change; instead, he can just double down on the same gamble he made in 2016. Why fix something he believes isn't broken? If anything, he will only get nastier.

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