The Trump White House Is Shredding The Integrity of Press Briefings

The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

With the number of lies being told from the White House press lectern how will we the American people know when the truth is being told?

Since Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended President Donald Trump’s false claims about crowd size at his inauguration and Kellyanne Conway went on television and introduced America to the phrase “alternative facts,” the information given at White House press briefings has been routinely fact checked to be misleading or false. This has happened with nearly every person who has spoken from the briefing room lectern.

Press Secretaries Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders are not alone in the art of defending the indefensible with lies, double speak, and non-answers to reporters’ persistent inquiry. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price have each had multiple problems with the telling the truth to the press and the public.

The fast-talking Anthony Scaramucci, whose time at the White House was less than the shelf life of a gallon of milk, still, never missed an opportunity to slay the truth and justify his points with pretzel logic.

This past week White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, one long thought to bring integrity and order to the West Wing, lost his credibility while also revealing his misogyny. General Kelly became the latest in the parade of Team Trump officials to lie to the press and the American public while standing at a lectern where the press and the public are supposed to be able to expect White House officials to speak with integrity and tell the truth.

Jason Easley noted the difficulty for cable news “to deal with the real-time nature of the Trump administration’s lies. The networks have tried instant fact checkers, crawls at the bottom of the screen, and banners. Of the three, the banners have been the most instantly effective.” In this same article Easley highlights the effective use of an on-screen banner CNN used to debunk lies from both Sarah Huckabee Sanders and John Kelly. A technique Easley commends to all networks which “insist on airing these propaganda-filled briefings.”

It is essential that news networks follow the lead of CNN here. In order for our democracy to function properly the people, citizens from coast to coast, from Puerto Rico to Hawaii, from Alaska to all around the globe, must be informed accurately about the actions of our government. But it is not only being accurately informed that is important, but also being able to trust those in public office to act with integrity and honesty in their dealings with affairs that affect the real lives of people across the country and throughout the world.

Trump’s lies are not only dangerous and embarrassing, they are eroding the integrity of the highest office in the land. This will be hard enough to repair in the time after Trump whenever and however that happens and regardless of who his successor is and for what reason.

With cabinet secretaries and other staff members also playing fast and loose with the truth in order to promote Trump’s propaganda in White House press briefings, what are the American people to think of their character in other aspects of their work on behalf of the people of the county they have promised to serve?

It is one thing to misspeak or get something wrong, recognize it, correct the error, and apologize. However, it is not only Trump who is allergic to apologies and correcting the record. This practice is trickling down as his staff is doubling down on lies as they shred the integrity of White House press briefings, while most ironically claiming the moral high ground.

The propaganda filled press briefings are not going to stop anytime soon. This administration is intent on misleading the people by saying whatever it takes to make their dangerous and despicable agenda palatable to the press and the public.

We the people cannot afford to be disengaged, but must be ever vigilant taking nothing from this administration at face value. We must continue to demand the press to their jobs by fact-checking White House press briefings in real-time so that in the coinage of Kellyanne Conway “alternative facts” don’t have time to take root in public consciousness.

It is a sad chapter in American history that White House press briefings have become opportunities to promote propaganda instead of clarifying policies that serve the common good of society, the world, and the environment. One day we shall return to this and restore integrity and honesty to the West Wing.