Meet the new White House press secretary. Same as the old White House press secretary.
Stephanie Grisham, who replaced Sarah Huckabee Sanders this week, has served as communications director to Melania Trump since March 2017 and previously worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
She also happens to be a demonstrable liar.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to her own boss, the first lady.
In June 2018, Melania Trump took a flight to McAllen, Texas, to visit migrant kids in detention, as her husband had separated the children from their parents at the border. She boarded the plane wearing an army-green jacket with the words “I really don’t care. Do U?” written in stark white letters on the back.
As CNN’s Chris Cillizza later noted, the first lady’s attire “set off a media circus. Was she trying to send a message to President Donald Trump about his border policies? A message to the media about how they covered her? Democrats who openly wondered how she could be married to her husband?”
Yet Grisham issued a blanket denial. “It’s a jacket,” she told reporters. “There was no hidden message.”
Got that? No hidden message.
The first lady’s communications director was even more defiant on social media. “Today’s visit w the children in Texas impacted @FLOTUS greatly,” she tweeted. “If media would spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids – rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe – we could get so much accomplished on behalf of children. #SheCares #ItsJustAJacket.”
Today’s visit w the children in Texas impacted @flotus greatly. If media would spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids - rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe - we could get so much accomplished on behalf of children. #SheCares #ItsJustAJacket— Stephanie Grisham (@StephGrisham45) June 21, 2018
In October, however, just four months later, Melania Trump casually admitted that the jacket “was kind of a message, yes.” Speaking to ABC News, she said she wore it “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don’t care.”
Why does a not-so-coded message on the first lady’s jacket matter? It doesn’t. What matters is that Grisham was willing to so brazenly lie about such a trivial issue — and has never acknowledged it or apologized.
She did the same thing in July 2018, after Trump falsely claimed that he had arrived in the U.K. on June 23, 2016, the day of the Brexit referendum, and had predicted the outcome of the vote. In fact, the president had arrived in the country the day after the referendum, on June 24. Yet as my colleague Rob Mackey noted, Grisham made “the striking decision to deny objective reality in defense of Trump’s delusion of grandeur.” She insisted to a BBC reporter that up is down, hot is cold, black is white.
Grisham, then, is the perfect appointment to an administration of pathological liars. The White House is ground zero for gaslighting; for the telling of lies big and small. (And remember: If they’re willing to lie about jackets or dates, why wouldn’t they lie about, say, the threat from Iran?)
Serial dishonesty is not the only issue. This is also an administration that has repeatedly tried to limit access for the press as a whole, while attacking and demonizing individual reporters. Here, too, Grisham has experience.
In 2016, as spokesperson for Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives, she helped implement a draconian GOP policy banning local reporters who “would not consent to extensive background checks” from the floor of the state legislature. As the Washington Post reported earlier this week:
Reporters quickly came to suspect the policy was, in fact, specifically designed to retaliate against [Arizona reporter Hank] Stephenson, whose reporting had revealed how Republican House Speaker David Gowan used state-owned vehicles to travel thousands of miles while running for Congress, and ultimately forced the lawmaker to return more than $12,000 to the state. Under the new rules, reporters would be barred from the floor for violent felony convictions such as assault and rape — as well as, oddly, misdemeanor trespassing. Stephenson, perhaps not coincidentally, had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing in 2014 after an incident at a bar in rural Arizona.
“As soon as we looked at it, we knew this was just a way to get rid of me,” Stephenson told the Post.
So Grisham fits right into this kakistocratic administration. Her cavalier disregard for the truth is matched by her equally cavalier disregard for the law. In September 2018, Grisham was reprimanded by the Office of Special Counsel for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits White House employees from engaging in party-political activities.
Rather than fire her, Trump decided to promote her. And why wouldn’t he? There don’t seem to be any consequences for Trump advisers who tell lies or break the law.
Take Grisham’s two predecessors. Sean Spicer began his tenure in office, on his first full day as White House press secretary, telling what still stands as one of the most absurd lies of the entire Trump presidency: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.”
Upon leaving the White House in July 2017, however, Spicer was invited on stage at the Emmys. He joined Harvard University’s Institute of Politics as a visiting fellow. In February, he was hired as a special correspondent for syndicated newsmagazine show “Extra.”
There don’t seem to be any consequences for Trump advisers who tell lies or break the law.
Consequences? What consequences?
Sanders was also in the vanguard of the president’s relentless assault on the media, helping to smear CNN’s Jim Acosta and calling for the firing of American Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan, among other attacks. She ended her tenure by going more than 100 days without an on-camera briefing for reporters — a record for any White House press secretary.
And yet, she was rewarded this week with a farewell drinks party organized and attended by … White House reporters!
“The correspondents huddled to grab selfies with Sanders,” reported the Columbia Journalism Review.
What’s worse? The ongoing war on the press — and on objective reality! — by Trump and his various press secretaries? Or the ongoing and shameless complicity of some members of the press in that effort?