Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the Post Truth Era
Sarah Sanders has been instrumental in obfuscating, alienating, and misrepresenting the truth during her tenure as the White House Press Secretary.
relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
"in this era of post-truth politics, it's easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire"
The Oxford English dictionary picked 'post-truth' as its word of the year in 2016. It’s no coincidence that this coincided with the advent of the Trump era in the US. 2016 was a year when the media was flooded with contradictory statements from the Trump campaign - but we aren’t about to go into that.
Instead, today, we’d like to focus on the role Sarah Huckabee Sanders has played as the White House Press Secretary in building a post truth vision of presidential accountability in the United States. As the mouth-piece of the presidency, Sarah Sanders has been instrumental in shaping the narrative received by the media - a narrow, skewed narrative of the White House administration, decisions, and internal politics. Together, Trump’s statements, policies and attitudes towards a number of issues; combined with Sanders’ presentation form the anti-thesis of truth and objectivity in American politics.
Let’s start with the beginning of the Trump Presidency. The first instance of this being a post-truth era was Sean Spicer claiming that the Trump inauguration boasted of ‘the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period’. This statement was made despite photographic and statistical evidence to the contrary. Rather than resulting in the admission of a mistake, this incident led to U.S. Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, defending Spicer, coining the term ‘alternative facts’. This moment was crucial to setting the tone for the interaction between the administration’s position and the truth - it was the genesis of the Press Secretary covering up for President Trump’s gross exaggerations, lies, and disregard for reality. It laid down a relationship - the Press Secretary and the Presidency would be hand in glove, defending each other from attack from the liberal, truth seeking, ‘fake news mainstream media’. The lines were clearly drawn: nationalism, patriotism, republican loyalty - any of this, over the truth.
Soon after Sean Spicer’s gaffe that left us all feeling nothing short of incredulous, Sarah Sanders stepped into the role of Press Secretary. Her tenure over the past 2 years has been fraught with moments of high tension between her office and the press. The rift escalated to the point where press briefings from her office almost came to a complete standstill. Her stance in this role has undermined the need for presidential accountability, transparency and the free flow of information. However, nothing has been more damaging that her guileless treatment of ‘alternative facts’ from the administration.
On March 4, 2017, President Trump sent out an almost incoherent tweet, accusing Obama of ordering wiretaps on Trump’s phones during the 2016 presidential election. He compared Obama’s actions to “Nixon /Watergate”.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
The very next day, Sarah Sanders appeared on ABC’s This Week, and referenced ‘multiple news outlets’ that have reported on the wiretapping, defending Trump and claiming that this surveillance was common knowledge. She specifically cited The New York Times and BBC as sources.
This is not true. There is no evidence, no documentation, and no news report that corroborates Trump’s claim, before or after his tweet. No independent journalist has confirmed this story, nor have any news houses been able to find a source on it. Neither the BBC nor the NYT have ever reported a story as such.
Politifact has four instances of Sanders’ statements being false, with one statement receiving its crowning ‘Pants on Fire’ rating - an outright lie. These statements are the following:
"President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did (for African-American employment) in eight years.”
“Diversity visa immigrants are not vetted.”
"I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn’t helped there.”
"The president in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence."
Worst of all, she has summarily dismissed the claims of sexual harassment against Trump raised by multiple women, claiming they are all lies. Throughout her stint as the White House Press Secretary, she has alienated the press; treated her role as adversarial; misled, confused, lied to the people; and wreaked damage on the credibility of any information stemming from the White House.
Here’s the thing - in any democracy, transparency matters. Information, facts, accountability, truth - they hold a place on the mantle of history. When the person bringing you the news from the White House rejects truth, democracy starts to crumble. Today, Sarah Sanders announced that she would soon be stepping down from her role as Press Secretary. As an agent of the Trump, post truth era, she has been incredibly effective in eroding the need for transparency. We can only hope that with her departure, we can also begin to erase the legacy left behind by her tenure.