The role of White House press secretary is a demanding one — facing questions from a press pool trained to be skeptical and hostile of those in power is no easy job. But given the nature of the strained POTUS-media relationship of 2018, there are additional challenges for President Trump's current press secretary. Among them, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doesn't like being called a "liar," according to a recent interview.
"It certainly bothers me," she told the New York Times' Mark Leibovich, referring to a reputation all but taken for granted amongst many pundits (and comedians) that Sanders plays fast and loose with the truth. She commented that "integrity and reputation" are two of just a few worthy things a person has in life." Sanders went on to say, "there’s a difference between misspeaking or not knowing something than maliciously lying.”
Along this line of defense, Sanders argued that "what’s true on Monday in terms of a process decision may change by Friday." And like anyone else, Sanders told Leibovich that she "can’t always know that things will be different.”
Sanders has come under fire for her perceived role in furthering misinformation from Trump, a man often faulted for his many and various false, inaccurate, or incomplete public statements.
At the 2018 White House Correspondents Dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf took aim at Sanders with several jokes explicitly slamming the press secretary's purported inability to be candid. Wolf riffed that, "She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
On May 4, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin argued that Sanders had "lost all credibility." Right at the outset, Rubin ticked off a list of Sanders' untruths. They included Sanders telling the press Trump never promoted violence at his rallies, her less than accurate record in assuring the media that key administration figures were not going anywhere just days before they were fired, and her excusal of distasteful or offensive Trump statement as "jokes."
But for many, the Sanders event that solidified her as an untrustworthy mouthpiece for the president came when she assured the press that Trump knew nothing of the $130,000 hush money payment from lawyer Michael Cohen to porn star Stormy Daniels. As the world now knows, thanks to Rudy Giuliani, Trump personally repaid Cohen that money himself.
According to a May 3 pressing briefing with Sanders, she — like the vast majority of everyone else — had no idea Trump had repaid Cohen before Giuliani announced it on air with Sean Hannity.
In his interview with Sanders, Leibovich doesn't let Sanders off so easy. Acknowledging that person's integrity is indeed a worthy concern, Leibovich countered by musing "if there is a danger in linking your integrity to a president who might not always be known for accuracy." Sanders insisted that wasn't an issue, since Leibovich was inquiring as to her own personal integrity, not that of the president himself.
To that, Leibovich responded, "Is it possible to be factual if you’re speaking for someone who is trying to make a point that is not factual?” For many of Sanders' critics, the obvious answer is "no." In fact, press secretaries have resigned in the past over just such ethical issues. For instance, Jerald terHorst, press secretary for President Ford, tendered his resignation after Ford guaranteed President Nixon's pardon.
As for Sanders, she replied to Leibovich's question about facts with confusion, then followed up with a defense of Trump's "refreshing" style as the "ultimate disruptor."