And it fails spectacularly. The article, penned by Aaron Blake, attempts to parse a statement made by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders during her dust-up with CNN’s Jim Acosta last Wednesday. Acosta had just come off a bruising evening at a Trump rally in Tampa, where an audience hooted and jeered at him, and was in a real sense seeking validation from Sanders. Here is her reply:
It’s ironic, Jim, that not only you and the media attack the President for his rhetoric when they frequently lower the level of conversation in this country. Repeatedly — repeatedly — the media resorts to personal attacks without any content other than to incite anger.
The media has attacked me personally on a number of occasions, including your own network; said I should be harassed as a life sentence; that I should be choked. ICE officials are not welcome in their place of worship, and personal information is shared on the Internet. When I was hosted by the Correspondents’ Association, of which almost all of you are members of, you brought a comedian up to attack my appearance and called me a traitor to my own gender.
In fact, as I know — as far as I know, I’m the first Press Secretary in the history of the United States that’s required Secret Service protection.
So how does Blake attempt to diffuse these allegations? By inefffectually twisting and distorting her exact words. He takes a point-by-point approach to the laundry list of legitimate grievances in the second paragraph of her statement, beginning with her claim that the media have said Sanders “should be harassed as a life sentence.”
Nobody said Sanders should be harassed as a life sentence.
This refers to a TV appearance from Washington Post opinion blogger Jennifer Rubin. Rubin was actually saying that declining to serve Sanders at the Red Hen restaurant wasn’t a fruitful course of action and that people should protest instead. Rubin said nothing directly about people “harassing” Sanders, although she did say being “uncomfortable” should be a “life sentence” for Sanders, for “lying” and “inciting” people against the press.
Blake expects us to believe that he believes that “harassment as a life sentence” and “discomfort as a life sentence” are light years apart. I wonder what kind of reaction he would get if he asked a roomful of disinterested observers whether being made to feel uncomfortable for the duration of your life would constitute harassment.
On to point two and Blake’s analysis:
Nobody advocated for Sanders being choked.
This, like the Rubin example, again relies on a quite uncharitable version of events from conservative media. MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace (whose show I have appeared on, full disclosure) didn’t call for choking Sanders, but instead asked a reporter if she ever wanted to “wring” Sanders’s neck out of frustration. Wallace apologized for the choice of words, which again was hardly a call to action. (RELATED: MSNBC host vows on air never to run another clip of ‘vile’ Sarah Sanders)
Let’s start with terminology. According to Grammarist, “To wring is to twist, squeeze, or clasp firmly, especially to extract liquid. It is the appropriate word in wring [one’s] neck, meaning to choke.”
Asking another person if he ever wanted to wring someone else’s neck out of frustration strikes me as advocating malicious intent on the part of the questioner.
Point three addresses Sanders’s claim that when “she was hosted by the [White House] Correspondents’ Association … you brought a comedian up to attack my appearance and call me a traitor to my own gender.”
Here’s Blake’s rebuttal:
This refers to the Michelle Wolf incident, and Sanders makes it sound as though the press tasked Wolf with ridiculing her. Whatever you think of inviting left-leaning comedians to speak to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner — and there are compelling reasons for it to be avoided — Wolf’s jokes about Sanders’s eye makeup and her demeanor were actually criticized by prominent journalists including members of the White House press corps, most notably by the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman. …
It is true that Haberman commented on the embarrassing episode, but her reaction was not a criticism of Wolf but a salute to Sanders’s pluckiness for toughing it out.
That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) April 29, 2018
As for Wolf herself, whether or not she was tasked with firing off zingers at the White House press secretary, it is certainly the case that no one stopped her once she got started. What is more, the reaction of the audience, which is comprised predominantly of members of the press, was hardly one of disapproval. Watch beginning at 13:44: