White House journalists’ most meme-able moments

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg, via Getty

For the last two decades, press secretaries for all presidents have held on-camera briefings. But in June, there were only five briefings on camera, plus an additional 10 off-camera ones. On Monday, Sean Spicer barred live video and audio of the press briefing. Yesterday marked the first time in weeks that the White House allowed the press briefing to be televised. Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was behind the podium, and things got heated.

Bans on recording are unprecedented (or should we say unpresidented?), at least since the White House began offering live briefings in the early 1990s. Sean Spicer—who is, at this point, a caricature of a press secretary—defended them, arguing that members of the White House press corps were using the on-camera briefings to become “YouTube stars.” With cameras off, Spicer says, journalists are “not trying to figure out, ‘How do I get on TV? How do I ask some snarky question?’ You can actually focus on the substance of the issues.”

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The claim is debatable at best. You could say it’s an alternative fact, though there may be an ounce of truth to it. If this were the Academy Awards, Spicer would get the nod for Best Actor, but he’d be nowhere without his supporting cast. Whether intentionally or not, some members of the White House press corps have stolen the spotlight with eye rolls, raised eyebrows, and impromptu naps.

These journalists weren’t “trying to get their clip.” Most Americans still don’t know their faces. But thanks to the beauty of the internet, they’ve gotten their GIFs. While journalists deliberate how to handle the “ban,” let’s take a look back at some of the most meme-able moments so far from the White House briefing room.

John Gizzi, Newsmax Media

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Gizzi is the king of the White House press corps memes. He’s been called the “most GIF-friendly reporter” by some, and a “national treasure” by others. And to think it all started with a flick of his glasses. At the March 13 press briefing, the Newsmax senior political correspondent made Twitter users swoon. With the camera locked on his face, Gizzi flexed his eyebrows to flick his glasses from his forehead to nose, and then immediately panned the crowd to see if anyone had caught his smooth moves.

It was the embodiment of the “deal with it” meme. In internet speak, “deal with it” is an expression “used as a retort in response to someone’s disapproval.” (Thanks, Know Your Meme.)

Gizzi didn’t stop there. The next day, he won crowds over again, this time thanks to a sleepy discussion about healthcare. CNN’s cameras caught Gizzi dozing off as Spicer briefed the room on the GOP’s health-care plan.

Gizzi still claims he was awake, tweeting: “Did it ever occur to you that reporters look down to consult their notes before [posing] questions?” Get this man his own reality show, stat!

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Ashley Parker, The Washington Post

Parker was all of us the day Spicer made his now-infamous Holocaust remarks. To refresh your memory, he claimed Adolf Hitler didn’t gas his own people “in the same way” Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad did. Yep, that actually happened. The remarks went viral, and so did Parker. Her face said everything we were all thinking, and the internet took notice. As The Washington Post later wrote, the GIF became “a collective reaction meme for those who were stunned by what Spicer said.” Thank you to Parker and the eyebrows that launched a thousand tweets.

April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks

Look closely at Parker’s GIF, and you might notice Ryan’s cameo in the backdrop. Her reaction to Spicer’s Hitler screw-up was perfection. As Spicer continues to put his foot in his mouth, Ryan looks around the room and shakes her head in disbelief.

Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent, is having quite the year. She’s been covering presidential politics for 20 years, but didn’t gain national prominence until Trump kicked off his first term. She’s been challenging the administration on questions of race and gender, but also throwing serious shade at Spicer.

This wasn’t Ryan’s first time in the internet spotlight. She spurred a few head shakes on Twitter after Spicer told her, “Please stop shaking your head again,” at a press briefing on March 28. Ryan was shaking her head in response to Spicer’s non-answer answer to a question about the White House’s image problem. She asked Spicer how the Trump administration was working to repair its reputation, citing investigations into the Russian interference into the US election and other controversies. What followed was a journalistic takedown—or rather, “head shake down”—of Spicer on Twitter.

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Bill Hennessy, CNN

Hennessy isn’t technically part of the White House press corps; he’s CNN’s regular sketch artist for Supreme Court proceedings. But after last Friday’s afternoon press briefing, he’s an honorary member. Hennessy stood in the back of the room, producing real-time sketches of Spicer at the podium amidst the usual crowd of reporters. The goal? “To paint a picture for viewers who couldn’t be in the room,” according to CNN. I’m not sure how many viewers benefited from the recreations, but the internet sure did. Even with the cameras off, Twitter wasted no time in responding to the sketches.

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Meg Dalton is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Find her on Twitter @megdalts.