Donald Trump campaigned against transparency and an adversarial press, and now he’s governing against them.
The GOP nominee didn’t just break decades of precedent by declining to release his tax returns — he also refused to be transparent about his own lack of transparency. Instead of stating plainly that he felt the public had no right to see his finances, the mogul endlessly regurgitated the demonstrable lie that he needed to wait for the IRS to complete its audit before he could release them. Meanwhile, Trump framed the media as his movement’s enemy, called for increasing the press’s exposure to libel suits, and tacitly encouraged his supporters’ attempts to intimidate campaign reporters.
Trump’s attitude toward the Fourth Estate has only soured since taking office. He has explicitly declared the mainstream media the “enemy of the American people,” refused to hold regular press conferences, and allowed his cabinet officials to ignore historic standards of media accessibility.
So, when the White House began phasing out routine press briefings in recent weeks, most saw the move as a logical extension of the president’s contempt for press scrutiny.
But what if the slow-death of on-camera press briefings has less to do with the shriveling of our democratic institutions than with the expansion of Sean Spicer’s waistline?
Chief White House strategist Steve Bannon has asked us to contemplate the latter possibility. As The Atlantic reports:
Neither Spicer nor deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders responded to queries about the changes to the briefings. Asked why the briefings are now routinely held off-camera, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said in a text message “Sean got fatter,” and did not respond to a follow-up.
There are a few reasons to question Bannon’s story. For one thing, Spicer isn’t the only person who gives press briefings, and it’s hard to see how his weight gain would have forced Sarah Sanders off camera. For another, Steve Bannon is a notorious liar who despises the media.
But the idea that Sean Spicer has been body-shamed out of the spotlight still holds a patina of plausibility. After all, the president infamously mocked the White House press secretary for his sartorial failings early in his tenure. And when Melissa McCarthy impersonated Spicer on Saturday Night Live, Trump was (reportedly) disgusted that his press secretary could be so convincingly caricatured by a woman.
So, sure: Bannon was joking. Press briefings are not being held off camera because Sean Spicer hates his body.
But some punch lines can leave a bruise. And some propagandists don’t like what they see in the mirror. And if you think that body-shaming your political opponents is funny, then imagine Sean Spicer watching this video through tear-glazed eyes.