Why Sarah Sanders Lied to the Media
It really was a "dog bites man" story. Getting confirmation in the Mueller Report that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was lying to the media shouldn't come as a big surprise.
The Mueller report will be known for many findings far more important than Sarah Sanders lying to the media. Whether it ends the debate into President Trump's alleged collusion with Russia, or fuels it even more, writing about a Press Secretary lying to the media shouldn't be top of mind.
However, as somebody who used to make his living speaking to the media on behalf of my employer, I found the passages in the Mueller Report related to Sanders' performance fascinating.
A Countless Number
As the fallout from the Mueller Report continues on a daily basis, there was one item that caught my attention more than others.
The report made it clear that on a few occasions, Sarah Sanders lied to White House reporters. Like I mentioned, we shouldn’t be surprised by this, but it was a nice bonus to have the Mueller Report confirm that she made up the story about having a “countless number” of FBI agents contact her after President Trump fired James Comey. This was the original exchange with the White House press corps.
The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree
The role of the White House Press Secretary was basically the same for years, until Trump came to office. Regardless of whether the Press Secretary worked for a Republican or a Democrat as President, their job was to speak on behalf of the President. Since the President was too busy to speak to the media on a daily basis, it’s been the job of the Press Secretary to explain why a President said or did something, or perhaps what they plan to do in the future.
A Press Secretary often put the best spin on things. That’s part of the job. Offering opinions has been a part of the game for decades. However lying isn’t, especially making up developments out of thin air to support your case and that of the President’s.
I recently finished reading Bob Woodward’s book Fear. It’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it.
In the book Woodward writes about how Trump constantly wanted people around him to defend him. He wanted White House staff and members of his cabinet to appear on Sunday morning television interview shows to defend his actions. He felt abandoned when his people failed to do so. If they had to lie to do it that was never an issue to Trump, as long as they defended him.
If anyone wonders why Sarah Sanders lied to the media, look no further than who her ultimate boss is. Her behaviour mirrors Trump’s. Let’s not forget, she’s not the first Trump Press Secretary to lie, or stretch the truth. Sean Spicer angrily inflated the size of the inauguration day crowd in Washington, in the early days of the Trump presidency. Once again, Trump did the same.
The Truth Shouldn't Hurt
Around 25 years ago, I served as the main spokesperson for the City of Edmonton’s Public Works department. It was a big department, with some 1,500 employees that included the water branch (now half of EPCOR), waste management, roadway construction planning, civic buildings and vehicles.
It was my job to speak on behalf of the department, or prepare senior staff for media interviews. When I was interviewed, I always avoided using anything other than the truth. There was no reason to. If I couldn’t comment on something, I said so, but never lied about it. I certainly tried to shine the best light on the City’s projects and programs because that was part of my job. Lying wasn’t.
When I wrote my book and was looking for a title I eventually settled on The Honest Spin Doctor because a media spokesperson could still be a spin doctor and be honest at the same time. I remember getting a message from a PR professional who was critical of me for using that title, saying it put communications professionals in a negative light because I was calling them spin doctors. I understand why she made the comment, but my point was any communications professional, even if they were known as spin doctors, could do their jobs and be honest while doing it.
It’s a lesson I wish Sarah Sanders and her boss had learned years ago.
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