Something strange happened at the White House on July 18.
OK, I guess I'll need to be a bit more specific, as there's a lot of strange stuff happening over at 1600 Pennsylvania these days: Something strange happened during the daily White House press briefing between two journalists from competing news outlets.
NBC's Hallie Jackson was asking Press Secretary Sarah Sanders about President Donald Trump's inconsistent answers on the topic of Russian election interference.
During his July 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump said that he didn't "see why [Russia] would have" interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. The following day, though, he walked that back, claiming that he meant to say "wouldn't." But on July 18, a reporter asked whether he believed Russia is trying to hack the 2018 election, to which he responded "no," contradicting his intelligence advisors. Later, the White House tried to walk back that "no."
It was all very confusing, so it was reasonable that reporters might have a few questions about it.
"Why should this president have any credibility to Americans in what he says if, in fact, 24 hours later — or in this case, three hours later — the White House comes out and says, 'Just kidding'?" asked Jackson.
Jackson trying to ask Sanders her question. Photo from White House/YouTube.
As press secretaries (in this administration, as well as previous ones) have a tendency to do when backed into a corner on a question they might not have the answer to, Sanders offered a quick response to Jackson and called on another reporter before she got any follow-up questions.
This time, though, it didn't work. A journalist from a competing outlet threw the question back to Jackson. It was remarkable.
"I'm going to keep moving. Jordan, go ahead," Sanders said, calling on Jordan Fabian, a reporter at The Hill.
All GIFs from White House/YouTube.
Jackson persisted, but once again, Sanders cut her off and threw the question over to Fabian.
And once Fabian got it? He gave it right back to Jackson.
Journalism is an extremely competitive industry — but every once in a while, reporters join together in solidarity to advance the underlying goal of obtaining information.
Earlier in July, people wondered whether the tradition of setting aside professional competition for the sake of ensuring an equal and free press — this is exactly why the White House Correspondents Association came into existence — had fallen by the wayside. During a July 13 joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump waved off CNN's Jim Acosta, saying, "I don't take questions from CNN. CNN is fake news. John Roberts of Fox. Let's go to a real network. John, let's go." Roberts did, frustrating his colleagues.
A number of media personalities chimed in to note that when the Obama administration expressed irritation with the way Fox covered them, they were there to come to Fox's defense.
In response to that criticism, the Trump administration cancelled a planned appearance by National Security Advisor John Bolton on CNN's "State of the Union," citing the network's "disrespect" for the president. This tactic of withholding access to encourage more favorable coverage can only work if other media outlets let it. On July 15, ABC's Jon Karl pressed Bolton on that exact issue, a big win for journalistic solidarity — something that clearly carried over to the July 18 press briefing.
The professional courtesy exhibited between Jackson and Fabian should be the norm.
All politicians and all administrations lie. The Trump administration, however, is in a league of its own. Trump has told more than 2,000 individual public lies since becoming president, according to a Toronto Star report. Trump then acts as though he's being disrespected when a journalist does their job and calls him on it.
For the sake of the truth, here's hoping that journalists continue to stick up for one another.
Watch the full exchange below (starting at about 16:33).