Learn To Enjoy White House Press Briefings With These Mental Scenarios
Administration press briefings, absent for nearly a year, are again part of our daily lives. Many of us cannot watch these without rending expensive throw pillows in half, punching drywall, or shouting at the television in tones that frighten pets and neighbors. To make your next viewing more bearable, try drifting briefly into one of these imagined scenarios.
The president is explaining how “Social Distancing When You Feel Like It” is a viable option when music starts to play on the briefing room PA system. According to custom, the press stand and walk in a cautious circle around the perimeter of the room. One chair is removed by the Secret Service.
When the music stops, every reporter scrambles to find a chair, until only Geoff Bennett (NBC) is left standing. Geoff gathers his things and leaves to cover some other event, a spring in his step. “Anyway,” the president resumes, “as long as you Social Distance a coupla hours a day — ” when the music starts again.
Elizabeth Landers (C-SPAN) asks for the exact number of ventilators delivered to New York.
The president draws in breath, ready to answer, then remembers the vat of hot gravy hung directly above the podium. The vat is connected to a polygraph machine, designed to upend the vat at the slightest hint of false or misleading information.
“Look, here’s the thing about the ventilators…” the president begins. The front row of reporters don protective ponchos.
The president shuffles in to start that day’s briefing when he spots a cheeseburger on the floor in front of him. He squats down, snatches it up, and swallows it in three quick bites. Before he can stand, he sees another cheeseburger a few feet away, and another, and another: a neat line of cheeseburgers, leading past the podium, along the floor, towards the emergency exit. On all fours, the president crawls along the trail of cheeseburgers, pausing to inhale each one, out the door and onto the White House grounds. The briefing is cancelled. Members of the press take a moment to Venmo Kelly O’Donnell (MSNBC) their portion of a recent takeout order from McDonald’s.
The president is explaining how the U.S. is doing more tests for COVID-19 than “all other countries in the world, combined, no problem,” but under his voice, a faint mewling can heard. The president tries to continue with his explanation when Arden Farhi (ABC) cries out, “The kittens are here!”
Sure enough, Farhi’s cat, Whiskey, nestled at the back of the briefing room in a basket of laundry, has given birth to seven beautiful kittens, earlier than expected, but with no complications.
Trump resumes, saying “We’re testing ten times more than South Korea, did you know that?” but the focus of the press corps is now divided; eventually, no one can resist the urge to gather around Whiskey at a respectful distance, watching her clean the litter, bearing witness to this miracle of new life.
The cameras swivel towards the proud mother and her offspring. Trump begins to fade from existence.
Peter Alexander (NBC) asks if the president would like to say anything to reassure an anxious nation. “What a nasty question,” the president jeers, leaning onto the podium, which sinks the tiniest bit.
“Such a nasty question, from a terrible person.” The podium sinks further: there is a small, concentrated patch of quicksand growing beneath it. “What a terrible message you’re sending out,” says the president, jabbing his finger in the air. Lost in his own vitriol, the president doesn’t notice that he’s sinking. Pence notices but says nothing.
Paula Reid (CBS) asks if planning to have businesses open by Easter Sunday is feasible. “Listen, people want to go to work,” the president declares, “I hear it from everyone — !” while swinging his arms to accentuate his point, knocking the enormous flag behind him off balance — which rocks backwards, then forwards, toppling onto the president, pinning him against the podium.
His face is crushed against his notes. His cheeks are smeared with black Sharpie. His one free arm hangs over the podium’s edge, flopping helplessly. The flagpole is solid brass and the flag’s cloth is of a heavy weave: the president cannot move.
Vice President Pence, shaking off momentary paralysis, rushes to help the president, jostling the large oval White House plaque hanging behind him, which falls from its wall mount and onto Pence’s lower torso, pinning him to the floor.
Finally, Dr. Fauci steps forward and tells Paula, no, of course no one will return to work by Easter Sunday, that’s idiotic.
Kaitlan Collins (CNN) asks the president about his dismantling of the existing US Pandemic Response Team, but the president talks over her, saying “Shush, honey, shush, that’s enough,” and calls on another reporter, revealed to be Kaitlan Collins.
“Mr. President, as I was saying,” Kaitlan continues, “regarding your actions with the US Pandemic Response Team...”
Panicked, the president calls on a third reporter, also Kaitlan Collins.
“The US Pandemic Response Team, Mr. President? The one you fired?”
Visible sweat on his forehead, the president sees the entire room is filled only with Kaitlin Collinses. Together, with one voice, they finish their question about his removal of the US Pandemic Response Team.
They wait for the president to answer, but he can only look from one Kaitlan Collins to the next, his eyes unfocused, his mouth working to form words but no sound emerging. The Kaitlans stand and begin to walk rhythmically and patiently towards him.
In a Rose Garden briefing, the president explains how, with millions of lives in the balance, the best use of the Defense Production Act is as “leverage”. As he waves his arm to accentuate a point, the entire platform rocks slightly.
Jim Acosta (CNN) notices the platform on which the president and his team stand is actually a raft, moored on a slow-moving river that winds out of the garden. Mentally berating himself for the sloppy reporting of not catching this detail before, Acosta surreptitiously loosens the rope holding the raft in place.
As Trump continues on about how the existing system was broken, about how none of this is his fault, the press solemnly watch him and his administrative team drift slowly away, towards the Potomac, the late afternoon sun playing across the lazy river like golden coins. As the raft passes beyond the White House gates, Fauci and Birx leap to safety.
The garden is quiet now.
Camera crews power down their gear. Members of the press take a long breath of fresh air, feeling like it’s the first breath they’ve taken in a long time. They depart to find their friends and family, throwing their notes in the trash as they go.
When the raft inexplicably bursts into flame, a distant spark on the horizon, no one is watching.