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.
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:
- McClellan’s calm tone (even when he was refusing to answer questions)
- 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)
- 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.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.