The White House press briefing ran late on Friday. I reported on it here. News writers did not have all the resources of reporters who cover the Internet. So we will be publishing below the post about the first briefing of the new year to include one question I asked in real time.
A few editorial and commentary journalists have talked lately about a possible connection between the subway syndrome and the coronavirus that causes it. The White House press secretary did not seem to feel compelled to explain whether the administration thinks the case in Brooklyn is related to the disease.
On my phone, I wrote this text message to the White House press secretary:
“You see any connection between the subway syndrome and the coronavirus?”
After I signed off, I checked my phone later and noticed that my e-mail had been sent to President Trump. I asked him about it:
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was apparently too busy to answer my question but she did respond to some broader observations I had made about the health of journalists and why in this boom era of the media, public affairs is not performing better than in the past. Her short answer went something like this:
Since its inception, this administration has touted transparency, access, and “loyalty.” It is deeply concerned with how taxpayer dollars are being used. Our opinion leaders work with journalists every day to address these issues and how best to maintain and expand journalistic freedom — all while safeguarding the people’s ability to access the truth.
I had read some of Sanders’s more recent e-mails, so I had become pretty familiar with this theme. Still, I wanted to ask her why the administration has done such a poor job of explaining what is happening when, or, more likely, when it does not seem to be doing all that well.
I want to emphasize that I have no idea whether the subway syndrome case in Brooklyn is connected to the coronavirus. In a way, it seems as if the administration is, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has put it, “selectively releasing news that helps them advance an agenda, but withholding or punting news of national security and national security threats that harm our security.” But of course the administration cannot specify what might or might not be disclosed.
As if to say, “I know you can’t hold me to it,” Sanders simply followed that up with a full statement noting that the coronavirus was “a concerning novel virus,” that it “has potential to be deadly to human health,” and that “The government is actively pursuing protective strategies.”
The claim that protecting the public has been prioritized is supported by information about the Office of Public Affairs: “Proactive updates to keep the American people informed,” “Protecting Our Investment in National Security,” “Keeping Our Men and Women in Uniform Safe,” “Supporting Veterans and Families” (“Those who support and serve in the United States Armed Forces include veterans, military families, public servants, and law enforcement officers,” according to the daily briefing summary); “A Clean Election” (“Of the $74.8 billion dedicated to elections by the Office of Public Affairs, $55.9 billion has been spent since November 16, 2014”); “Enhancing Women’s Health” (“USPHS aims to maximize the health and safety benefits that the programs and services under USPHS provide to patients”); “Improving the Presidential Record” (“Information released by the Office of Public Affairs during an administration’s first 100 days is typically released to the media by early to mid-April”); “Reducing the Cost of Public Health and Safety Programs” (“Public health and public safety programs, including the OSHA workplace safety standards”); “Protecting our Mission” (“This office employs about 3,500 people in the programs of the Director of the Office of Public Affairs”); “Protecting Our Public Diplomacy” (“The Director of the Office of Public Affairs’ mission is to protect, support, and enhance the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development in its peacetime and overseas missions, and to ensure that public diplomacy ‘not be seen as a public relations effort’ ”); “The Vanishing Petty Treasures” (“The Office of Public Affairs provides information, intelligence, and briefings to ensure that public diplomacy functions are carried out effectively