CAMDEN At first, it sounded as though my theory about government officials in Washington D.C. had been affirmed once Joe Biden had been inaugurated as president.
There it was, right there in the president’s press secretary’s news briefings and again on subsequent briefings.
They were running around in circles, Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said.
No, that isn’t what she said, I was told when pointing this out. “But,” I exclaimed, “she just admitted what I’ve been saying all along. They’re all running around in circles. Remember that old Confucius joke?
“Confucius says he who runs around in circles shall be known as a big wheel.”
Cute, but I had it wrong, I was told.
She, or all the other folks in Washington D.C. weren’t running around in circles.
Rather, when she didn’t have an answer for a reporter’s question, or simply didn’t want to answer it, she would say, “I’ll circle back to you on that.”
How very handy, I thought. Have to try that out to see how it works.
“Jim, have you scooped out the litter boxes?”
I mused thoughtfully for a moment, then said, “I’ll have to circle back to you on that.”
“Is that,” I was asked, “an ‘I don’t know’ or simply ‘I don’t want to answer that?’” Or, “No I haven’t but I don’t want to say so?”
Soon I noticed that Psaki must have been getting dizzy from all that circling back. Because she stopped using that phrase. But, I’ve got to hand it to her. Despite that running around in circles, she seemed to be telling the truth. That’s a lot more than can be said about previous statements coming from presidential spokespeople.
Speaking of circling back, we’ll do that to the previous administration’s press briefings. During the most recent Donald Trump’s press secretary’s briefings, Kaleigh McEnany appeared to be trying to set a record for flat-out lying for her boss. But before her, the press secretary, much like Psaki keeping in motion by circling back, Sarah Huckabee Sanders also liked to keep in motion.
In Sanders’ case, her physical motion was to move forward. It seemed whenever she wanted to get past a reporter’s question that the administration had no good, plausible or halfway honest answer for, she would say, after blowing off the query, “… moving forward.”
A variety of online sources appear to compliment Sanders on her ability to coolly, calmly and with little expression, lie to reporters in the White House briefing room. I guess that will serve her well if she moves on to herself serving in elected office. She said in her announcement of running for governor, as quoted on National Public Radio, “I’ve been tested under fire, successfully managing one crisis after another in one of the most difficult, high-pressure jobs in all of government.” Well, how she was tested under fire in the press briefing room was to just stop having press briefings. Yep, take the air out of the room, that’ll stop a fire.
How the truth is handled in the White House took me all the way back to the Richard Nixon era. While he was scrambling to try to wiggle out of the Watergate scandal, his press secretary came up with a unique way of saying what had been said previously about Watergate were big fat fibs, but they were gonna start telling the truth. That was Ron Ziegler when he said “All previous statements are inoperable. This is the operative statement.”
At least back then, he admitted in a roundabout way that there had been lies, calling them “inoperable” statements.
Trump’s one-time counselor Kellyanne Conway said as much about statements by Trump’s first press secretary, Sean Spicer. But, the White House couldn’t bring itself to admit that Spicer’s bragging about the numbers of people attending Trump’s inaugural were lies or even inoperable. So, according to online sources, she said Spicer based his attendance figures on “alternative facts.”
I guess we’ll just have to accept that what we hear out of the White House might be hard to swallow but at least it should taste good. Because we’ll always have to take them with a grain of salt.
(Jim Edwards is retired after a lifetime in the newspaper business and for 30 years worked in various positions at the Camden News, El Dorado News-Times and Banner-News of Magnolia. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of this newspaper. Email to [email protected])