The White House press corps is in desperate need of a cultural overhaul.
The daily routine of White House officials assiduously avoiding vacuous questions lobbed by reporters who behave increasingly like caricatures of actual journalists has long been a dreary and tiresome affair.
On Tuesday, however, this normally humdrum waste of time went from merely tiresome and dreary to outright humiliating — and not for the Trump administration.
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, who became physician to the president in 2013, appeared at the daily White House press briefing Tuesday to give reporters a complete update on the president’s mental and physical health. A parade of stupid followed. Some reporters used the health briefing as an opportunity to get in a dig at the president. Other, clearly uninformed journalists looked for holes in the obviously qualified doctor’s findings. Many tried repeatedly to get Jackson to suggest that Trump is mentally unstable.
The following is a complete list of the most idiotic questions posed at the Trump health briefing by members of the White House press corps. The following also includes the many, many attempts by reporters to get Jackson to suggest Trump may somehow be mentally unfit.
To be clear, there were some good questions asked at the briefing. Those queries have been excluded from this list.
Remember, these are real questions asked by ostensibly serious people. Also, remember that these questions came after Jackson had already briefed them on what he said was an excellent bill of health:
- I'm wondering if you talked to the president about ... the president's mental fitness. He has pushed back on that calling (inaudible) a stable genius. Can you assess the president's mental fitness for office?
- There was an incident recently where the president appeared to slur his words while giving an address. Did you look into what the cause of that might have been at all?
- Does the president wear dentures?
- Could you just elaborate in layman's terms if possible … what you ruled out in these cognitive tests? You know, there have been reports that the president has forgotten names, that he is repeating himself. Are you ruling out things like early onset Alzheimer's? Are you looking at dementia-like symptoms?
- If I might ask a question that follows on the philosophy of the fitness of the president? The 25th Amendment, a lot of people in the country have been talking about it, it basically contemplates that a group of Senate-confirmed laymen will weigh in on whether the president's able to discharge the duties of the office. In the U.S., the president's position, certainly given this some thought over the years that you've been in your role. On what basis would you, and this is just a philosophical question, advise the cabinet that the president is unable to discharge his duties? How does that bar get met?
- Do you believe he is fit for duty?
- How can you determine that? … How can you determine that for the whole — I mean, you can't determine four years out, right?
- Just to make sure we're clear on this, when you analyze his cognitive ability or do neurological functions, that is not the same as a psychiatric exam or a psychological [inaudible]?
- But can you explain to me how a guy who eats McDonald’s and (inaudible) and all those Diet Cokes and who never exercises, is in as good as shape as you say he’s in?
- You mentioned that you gave the President a cognitive test. Was that the Mini-Mental State Examination or the (inaudible) test? And if not, can you tell us what specific cognitive test you gave him?
- Did you see any evidence of bone spurs, which the president said that he suffered from?
- Is he limited to one scoop of ice cream now?
- There isn’t anything that’s a part of the president’s health records or his overall physical fitness or any medications that he’s taking that you’re not permitted to tell us? Is there anything you’re keeping from us for privacy reasons?
- Doctor, can you say — given the president’s age, he’s somewhat of a peer to where President Reagan was at this time in his presidency. Can you say — given that there is scrutiny of what was overlooked at the time with President Reagan, in terms of Alzheimer’s and things he was then known to suffer from at a later date, can you say whether the test that you ran would exclude any of those things and what the possibility of overlooking something like that would be? You know, how can you tell the American people that this time you’re certain?
- Dr. Jackson, did you take a waist measurement for the president? His weight — I think you said 239, right? That seems — I think that’s just shy of obesity, right? So you’re confident of that number, and did you do any measurements?
- Because of his age, will you conduct cognitive testing in the future? Because of his age, in continuing his physicals in the future, will you also continue the cognitive testing?
- Was there anything that the president or anyone else specifically said for you not to mention today?
- You say that the president was the one who requested the cognitive test, that it wasn’t necessarily needed for someone of his age. Did you — did he tell you why he wanted it done? There’s been a lot of speculation out there about his cognitive state. Was he upset with some of that talk? What were the discussions that you had from when he told you, “This is why I want to do it”? Why did he say he wanted to do it? Was there any one incident that kind of made him say, "Hey, this is something I want to do," or was it just a collection of voices of criticisms?
- Does he watch too much TV? From a sedentary lifestyle sort of perspective, should he cut back on that? But you get why I’m asking, because of the seated sort of aspect of television-watching versus the active lifestyle part of it.
- What is your take of all the doctors and clinicians all across the country who have said that, in this president, they see symptoms of this, that, and the other?
- How would you describe his diet before he became president? A lot has been said about too much McDonald’s, too many burgers. Do you think it was problematic?
- Did you tell the current president about his predecessor’s exercise routine? And does this president ask you about how he could follow his predecessor’s example to be as fit as Barack Obama was?
- Do you keep a tally of how much golf the U.S. president plays? That is something the press office repeatedly does not tell us. Do you keep a tally? And do you consider that exercise?
- Dr. Jackson, does the president take any medications that you haven’t disclosed here today?
- Can you give us an idea of exactly what that cognitive exam involved over that half hour? And does that conclusively rule out any further psychological exam?
- Do you have any concerns about the president’s use of Twitter?
- You mentioned a whole bunch of doctors that participated in Friday’s exam. And there are other questions that were asked today about the president’s emotional health. Is there anyone on the president’s medical team, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, whose job it is to monitor the president’s emotional state or watch for potential psychiatric problems or indicators of those?
- You made a statement saying that you expect the president to be in good health for the duration of his term, or even a second term, if he gets it. Was there a specific request from the president to make that statement or from anyone in the administration or from anyone in the White House?
- Dr. Jackson, just one more question about the Montreal exam and other, sort of, Mini-Mental status exams. They’re pretty good, but they’re not really sensitive to someone who’s already high-functioning. They’re not really good at finding early stages of dementia. If the president is worried about it, would you recommend more sophisticated exams?
- Are you saying — this is my ignorance — but are we saying that, because of Reagan — all right, we had some of the issues with Reagan — and the issues about this president, cognitive testing, mental acuity testing, is not commonly part of an annual physical with the president of the United States? … With the power that he wields, should it not be?
- The president playing golf a lot, almost every weekend. Is that helpful for his health?
- My question was, with all the questions that have been asked, going back to that issue, everyone has asked about mental acuity. Those questions have been in the public. And he told Sarah to tell you to stay up here until those questions are answered. Going forward, would you recommend that presidents undergo that type of testing?
The best word to describe what we felt Tuesday isn’t in the English dictionary. The White House press briefing invoked a very strong sense of “fremdschamen,” which is German for the feeling of embarrassment on the behalf of another. There’s no better way to put it.
We’ve written before that the White House press briefing is a waste of time. We’ve written before that many of the reporters who attend these briefings seem concerned more with putting on a good show than they are with learning and uncovering facts. We've also written that newsrooms would be better served abandoning this charade in favor of the unpleasant and unglamorous work of shoe-leather reporting.
Tuesday’s briefing is one of the strongest, clearest examples of what a deeply unserious organization the White House press corps has become. It’s a deeply unserious group whose many members have been incentivized to care mostly about boosting their professional profiles. Tuesday’s briefing is a strong argument in favor of giving the whole lousy operation a total overhaul.
Maybe next time newsrooms should think about sending more health care and medical correspondents to a briefing about the president’s health. Maybe next time the usual briefing reporters should step aside to let people who know what they’re talking about ask the questions. Just spitballing here, you know?
White House press corps: Please stop embarrassing the rest of us.