Keyleigh McEnany is the latest in a parade of press secretaries whose job is loyalty to the President. That’s not supposed to be the job, but that’s the way things are these days, and Jonathan Karl, the out-going president of the White House Correspondents Association said so in an op-ed piece in Saturday’s Washington Post.
Sean Spicer, who had some respect from journalists, lost it when he became Trump’s press secretary. Taking up the space here to go down the list of others who held the job would take longer than any one of them held the post. Generally, their task was to make Trump look good. In the army, they’d be called cannon fodder.
Being the press officer for Trump is a little like being a spotter plane pilot over a war zone, or a reconnaissance and range-finder ship helping Navy gunners loft ordnance on land targets from way offshore.
Yes, the coverage of politics is always a battle. With Trump, it’s carnage.
It’s easier for the press corps than for the professional flack. That’s what working press calls a hired mouthpiece. The flack is the prodigal child who left the sacred order of truth-seekers to hire their skills out to those who are more inclined to bend the facts for the benefit of power and profit than for public service. The press officer is no longer a news person. They are in public relations — or sales.
The most flagrant comments from McEnany are akin to the presentations from the pitchmen selling no-drip rain gutters in television ads — “But wait, there’s more!”
Professional news people cannot abide being used to spread propaganda.
When the Carroll County commissioners were interviewing people for the job of public information officer for the county, I wanted a working reporter, and in particular, one that did not really want the job. To me, credibility was more important than degrees or a prestigious resume. The woman we hired was the one who told me that she could not stand in front of reporters and mislead them. But she liked the idea of public service.
My own differences with my news colleagues over the years have been about the overly rigid adherence to the idea of maintaining an adversarial stance. I agree with the hard-cases that the essential role of the media is to hold power accountable, but I’ve never fully subscribed to the adage that the role of the press “... is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
The essential American character trait is that anyone entrusted with public trust is required to pass public scrutiny. Corporate princes and show biz stars and high priests of various religions may be worshipped by the masses, but no politician is anything more than the person we chose to look out in a general way for the rights and interests of all the citizens.
Professional reporters assigned to cover the President have valid and respected press credentials. They have shown responsible attention to factual reporting and a willingness to ask the tough questions — even when some might think the very idea of questioning people with high titles is disrespectful. In short, the reporters covering politics in Washington are more competent — and have more integrity — than most of the people running government.
But not everyone can resist the money, and the money paid to people willing to sell sound bites instead of telling the whole story is good. PR pays better — four times what reporters earn— makes for “good contacts” and it can be a great career move; some flacks turn it around and come back from the dark side and redeem themselves with their new insights. They become members of the expert panels on Fox and CNN and MSNBC.
McEnany has not always been a Trump fan. A staunch Republican, she was critical of Trump the candidate in 2015. But now she can excuse his lies and insult the best press in the world because that’s just her job now.
It’s better work than being a proctologist. Or is it?
Dean Minnich retired from a journalism career and later served two terms as a county commissioner. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.