If I had coffee with Sarah Sanders…

I have not perfectly demonstrated this belief over the years, but it is something I owe my fellow female professionals (and just my fellow women in general):advice for Sarah Sanders

But when it comes to this one woman…

My work schedule right now is front-loaded in the (much) earlier part of the day, so I often find myself able to watch the daily press briefing.

As I watch, I think “I feel so angry at this woman” as I watch Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (SHS).

I can’t figure this out.

Some of my strong emotional reaction I can diagnose …..it boils down to the fact that I don’t believe it is professional to demean the journalism professionals present so openly nor to speak in such a hostile way about people and organizations that disagree with the leaders of the Executive branch.

I start watching/listening to most daily briefings with an attitude of “I probably won’t agree with most of what she says but it is important to not stick my head in the sand.”

I usually make it about 10 minutes before tweeting out my frustration and trying not to hurl shoes at the television.

What I want to tell SHS

I know some sources say she plans to leave the position by the end of the year (although she apparently denies these reports), so perhaps it’s a moot point, but I still have to get this out.

I know I will probably never actually be invited to have coffee with her. I’ll never face the White House press corps. I’ll never be in the audience at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, knowing my boss and I are surely going to be the butt of jokes.

But if I did have an opportunity to chat, I would tell her no job is worth abandoning your own voice to be the mouthpiece of anger and vitriol. I don’t think that is what the press secretary role is about.

Not the she necessarily sees Melinda Gates as a role model, but I’m with Melinda.advice for Sarah Sanders

I would tell her that I think in time she is going to look back at this period of her life and wish she had taken a different approach.

SHS’s predecessors were different

This topic has been niggling at my brain for months now. Because I don’t have a comprehensive recall of previous press secretaries’ performances, I sought an example from a previous administration. I chose a Republican administration to be fair to SHS and ended up at this Scott McClellan briefing from the George W. Bush administration.

Watching one briefing does not a thorough analysis make, but I was struck by a few things:

  1. McClellan’s calm tone (even when he was refusing to answer questions)
  2. How he emphasized the fact that he valued his relationship with the press corps (yes, he may have been blowing smoke up their butts, but he made the effort)
  3. His tendency to explain rather than attack

BUT SHS has done some things right

SHS has done one thing that did not (in my opinion) occur under Sean Spicer. She has brought a semblance of order to the process. I admire her for that because keeping conversations within the rails has to be hard.

About SHS’ interaction with Larry Karem

Fast forward to the June 14 press briefing. As the national outcry grew over the how the administration was condoning the separation of children from their parents when immigrant families arrived from Mexico illegally, reporters sought answers.

Larry Karem of CNN and Playboy pressed SHS over and over (and over) again, eventually asking … as she began to ignore him and pointedly called on another reporter … “Don’t you have any empathy for what they go through?”

(At the time, all I could think was about my time at Healthy Kids. In my customer service capacity, I talked to countless parents who were upset about their children’s accounts being cancelled for late payment and other reasons. Inevitably, they would say, “do YOU have kids?” One parent said, “I’ve looked you up on Facebook. I know all about your kids.” Nice. It is hard to separate out your compassion and empathy as a parent with the rules you have to enforce as an employee. Therefore, I did feel empathy for SHS as the reporter screamed at her, prefacing his question about empathy with, “You’re a parent. You’re a parent of young children.”)

Ultimately, I side Larry.

If I had coffee with Sarah, I would encourage her to listen to her own voice.

I know a bit about her ideological background, so it’s unlikely that her “own voice” has that much in common with mine.

But if we were going to be in the same tribe together, and she was at all receptive to my attempt to lift her up, my advice would come with an admonition to consider listening to her own voice more closely instead of resorting to hostilely defending someone else’s while denigrating people who are (for the most part) trying to do their jobs.

*Note: One question I have asked myself while thinking through this post is whether I would feel the same if SHS were a man. I’m not sure. I think at the heart of my personal reaction to her approach is the idea that young women considering careers in communications are taking their cues from her, not just about professionalism but about how to mix being a professional with being a parent, and the message she sends should be longer on professionalism and shorter on mean-spiritedness.

*Note 2: If you want to use YOUR voice to advocate on behalf of the immigrant children being separated from their parents, here are five simple, quick actions recommended by Moms Rising.

10 thoughts on “If I had coffee with Sarah Sanders…

  1. Personally, I hope she leaves. From all I’ve seen she is not capable of answering the tough questions, and there are many, refuses to admit anything the orange anus says or does is wrong. I feel sorry for her children. She can’t possibly be a good mother and then become an evil woman in her job. That makes no sense to me. She has consistently shown her true colors and, I for one, can’t wait til she is gone!

    • Thanks for your comment, Barbara, and you’ve touched on many of the areas that led me to feel conflicted in the first place. I tend to think it’s “unwilling” or “ordered not to” rather than inability leading to her refusal to answer many of the questions, but obviously I can’t know. // And I also tend to think she’s an amazing mother. Even if she isn’t amazing, I suspect in her children’s eyes she hangs the moon. This does make it almost impossible for me to reconcile her public persona, but I’ve known many women who are brash and confrontational (and unfair) publicly/professionally who managed to be caring, wonderful mothers. It is, as I said, hard to reconcile. // I also shudder to think who may come behind her if she leaves, so I also lean toward keeping “the monster we know.” We’ll see. Thank you again for chiming in.

  2. I don’t care for her non-responses and for most of her responses. On the other hand, being Press Secretary in this administration has to be one of the most difficult and frustrating positions ever! How could anyone give a straight response, knowing that there would be a very good likelihood that the President would change his position at any given moment? What kind of a person would want or accept a job like that?

    • Yeah —- it’s (to me) a no-win situation for the person in the position of Press Secretary right now, I think. Disregarding ideology, when the “leader,” as you said, fails to hew to a consistent position and is more focused on themselves than the welfare of the nation, it must be like describing jello (and having to answer questions about it). She has a tough job, for sure (and it’s her choice to do it, and how she does it, that led to my thoughts I shared here).

  3. After reading this I thought, geez, Paula who is so kind and caring is fed up with her too! I would not like the person if Sarah was Sam using the same evasive answering and hostile tone.

    • Ha! Well, I am definitely fed up! I have heard Raj Shah handle briefings too (although many fewer…) and don’t walk away with the same fury (even though he still is clearly adhering to a specific party line. I still can’t totally put my finger on it (which is why I write!).

  4. So much of what you’ve written rings true to me. I don’t think I’d ever want to sit down with SHS though. Check out your link to help immigrant children.

  5. I look at this young woman and think she, at one time, must have really thought her boss could do something to help America. But she has been reduced to having to defend every outrageous and horrible thing he does. It is her choice to be there. But she is the one who gets beat up every day for what he does. I think the way she responds to the press is a reflection of who she works for. I’m not at all giving her a pass on anything she says or does in that press room. She’s an adult, fully responsible for her actions. But I would never judge her as a mother for what she does at work. If it were a man up there, we would likely not even be aware of whether he was a father or not, much less judge him for the TYPE of father he is based on his job performance.

    • Yes, Cathy — you get at many of the things that I can’t really reconcile (but I had to try by writing them out). It really bugs me when she switches from “all business” mode to take a point of personal privilege by wishing her kid a happy birthday and it annoyed me even MORE when she complained that the press shouldn’t have released a story while she was at the kid’s kindergarten performance. It also bugged me when her kid was tweeting from her unlocked phone. SIGHHHHHHHH. Those things didn’t make her more human to me; they made her more duplicitous. It’s hard to sort out. Thanks for your comment.

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