We watched the Conway lady lose her credibility faster than an exotic dancer sheds her duds, and we squirmed as Sean What’s His Name stammered in frustration tilting with the D.C. news media.
But even the most partisan of us have to give some grudging respect for the sheer grit that Sarah Huckabee Sanders brings to the podium during White House press briefings.
For starters, she has a job that most self-respecting journalists would shun. Really, it would be better to walk at intersections carrying a hand-made sign asking for handouts for a homeless drug user than to be a flack for President Donald Trump.
“Flack” may be an old-fashioned term for press secretary, publicity director, press agent, whatever title is assigned the hired hand whose job it is to write and deliver press releases designed to make the boss look good.
Some real news people who swore they’d never be a flack have been lured into the weeds of professional publicist. It can be an honorable profession, but it has the one thing that a legitimate reporter rarely has to deal with: The pressure to leave out the truth, or outright lie when responding to a question from the working press.
Few of those trained or having experience in the work of gathering facts and attempting to cobble them into a truthful news story can pull off the delivery of a statement full of holes. Or, of deflecting a direct question to a totally irrelevant truism that is designed to turn the questioner away in frustration. Or, of reciting a bald-faced statement of denial when everyone in the room and beyond knows it’s a lie.
The president’s press aide can do that, and she can do it in a way that makes you step back and admire the work, much the way a baseball player gets up and dusts himself off and picks up the bat after having a 95-mph pitch thrown at his head to discourage digging in to swing again.
There’s an old saying, “If you don’t have (or want to divulge) the facts, dazzle them with BS.” You must be good at that to be a publicity agent, press agent, news director — whatever is deemed to retain a semblance of credibility against the cynicism of a press corps worn down in the world capital of obfuscation.
Another old saying in the news business is, “Everybody lies, and those who don’t are press agents.” Ha! As in, it isn’t lying if that’s the job description.
Not long after taking office as a county commissioner, I convinced my colleagues to hire a professional news person to be our go-to person when the local reporters or any member of the public wanted some facts on what the county was doing, when, why and how.
Instead of hiring a professional with experience in corporate or bureaucratic or political press releases, I was insistent that we find a working reporter/editor who would stick to the ideals of transparency and full disclosure of facts, even those that might not be convenient to elected officials or government staff.
We found such a person, and she did a good job, even though she had to suffer the skepticism of reporters whose own biases against government mouthpieces were well-earned. Remember, everybody lies.
My promise to the person we hired was that I would never ask her to say something that was not true, never ask her to shade the truth to make the county officials look better and would speak against anyone elected or on staff who did not share those ideals.
There are many good press officers working for government agencies, and they have a tough job because they soon learn that no matter how well they achieve that adherence to the truth, there will be those behind her and confronting her on the podium who challenge his or her work.
The best a professional press rep can hope for is not to be thrown under the bus by the people who pay her salary, and to be given points for courage and effort by the relentless press corps.