While there are rumors that she could be the
next one to get a pink slip, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has held on for a good long time so far, at least by this White House’s standards.
An essential part of being Donald Trump’s henchwoman is lying/bending the truth or, as
Michelle Wolf called it at the White House Correspondents Dinner, burning facts and using the ashes to create a killer smoky eye. Insiders say Sanders tries very hard not to lie outright and “spends considerable time crafting talking points that convey the president’s wishes but also are technically truthful.” Behind the scenes, she is reportedly “largely regarded as more pleasant and helpful” to reporters. She also wishes members of the press happy birthday and bakes them pecan pies.
But pies don’t make up for
lies, and the press secretary often gets into hot water as she goes to bat for the president, primarily for her sins of omission. Recently, she was criticized after Trump’s new personal attorney Rudy Giuliani went on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show and told him that Trump had reimbursed his attorney Michael Cohen $130,000 for Stormy Daniels’ “hush money.” One reporter asked her: “Were you lying to us at the time? Or were you in the dark?” Sanders said that she first learned about the reimbursement by watching Giuliani’s interview, and gave the best information she had at the time.
While what Sanders says or doesn’t say can reveal when she’s lying, body language experts say she also exhibits telltale nonverbal signs of being deceptive. When you see several signs of deception clustered together, you have a higher degree of confidence that the person is lying at any given time.
Ahead, body language experts
Dr. Jack Brown, also a physician, and Patti Wood, author of , break down Sanders’ behavior. Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma
The Behavior: Emotional Fluctuation
On April 10, 2018, veteran reporter April Ryan asked Sanders whether Trump has thought, at any point, about stepping down, especially in light of the turmoil of the Russia investigation. (The question begins at 9:28 in this video.) Sanders answers, “Uh, no, and I think that’s an absolutely ridiculous question,” and immediately calls on someone else while Ryan continued. “I gave you two questions, April, we’re moving on.”
Immediately after Ryan’s question, Sanders shows “substantial emotional fluctuation,” from contempt to high anxiety-fear-regret, back to contempt, and then back to anxiety, said Brown. This is a textbook example of emotional dissonance, or having trouble aligning one’s true thoughts and feelings with one’s verbal statements.
“It shows that she might have resentment for a particular individual” — perhaps the president, or the chief of staff, or whoever gave her marching orders that day — “or it could be just for her job,” Brown told Refinery29. “Thinking, maybe, ‘I can’t believe I have to lie my butt off.'”
The Behavior: Talking Out Of The Side Of Her Mouth
During the press briefing on March 7, 2018, Sanders found herself answering tough questions about
Stormy Daniels after the adult-film star had filed a lawsuit against the president alleging that their nondisclosure agreement was non-binding because he never signed it. At times, like at 12:15, she talks out of the side of her mouth, a sign of either “bravado and hubris, or insincerity and deception” that Sanders displays often, said Brown. It’s something you see in athletes a lot when they put on swagger after a game or competition, he added.
Wood said facial asymmetry often occurs when someone “habitually feels one thing and says another, or keeps their true feelings in.” There is a disconnect between your limbic brain, where emotions are, and the neocortex, or the thinking brain — where you can consciously control thoughts and words and create lies. The asymmetry, she said, is these two parts of your brain battling it out.
The Behavior: Misspeaking
Around 12:26, Sanders pronounces “outside” — as in “outside counsel” — as “out-cod.” While almost every public speaker makes small mistakes like this, the fact that she hardly ever corrects herself is “a sign of a lack of objectivity and sincerity,” Brown said. “It’s a small lie indicative of bigger lies.” Wood added that it could be a sign of extreme fatigue, “but can also be an indication of the mental fatigue from deceit, which put a high cognitive load on the brain.”
The Behavior: Smiling Out Of Context
During the press conference on February 20, 2018, a reporter asked Sanders what on earth President Trump meant by a tweet that seemed to blame the FBI for missing signs of the Parkland shooter because it spent too much time on the investigation into his collusion with Russia.
Sanders’ response is floundering: “I, I, I think he was speaking, ahh, not necessarily that that is the, the, the cause — I think we all, umm, have to be aware that the cause of — this is — that of a deranged individual, ah, that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people. Um, that is the responsibility of the shooter, um, certainly not the responsilibility [sic] of anybody else.” (There’s the misspeaking again.)
As she speaks, around 5:20, Brown pointed out that she starts to show a partially suppressed smile. One form of smiling out of context, he said, is called “duping delight,” a term coined by
psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman. It’s when your subconscious mind is taking pleasure in fooling people, a behavior frequently exhibited by children.
“You’re smiling out of context because you can’t suppress your inner feelings about pulling off a lie,” said Brown. “She’s expressing cognitive and emotional dissonance. She’s thinking, ‘This is my job, I have to do what I’m told, I’m speaking for the president and not myself.'”
Wood said that several times in this video, it seems Sanders “likes making reporters look stupid or wrong or inappropriate with their questions and comments” — that she enjoys “the game.” She added that it’s odd how emotionally disconnected Sanders seems from the gravitas of the message. “What is interesting in this presentation is how she speeds unemotionally through the delivery of the facts of the shooting,” she said.
The Behavior: Touching Her Face
On February 12, 2018, Sanders went to work defending Rob Porter, a now-former aide to Trump who resigned after both of his
ex-wives alleged that he had physically abused them. A reporter asks, “Can you guarantee that you are protecting classified information given that you had someone like Rob Porter who didn’t have a permanent security clearance with access to classified information?”
Around 10:06 in this video, as she accuses the press of being the ones to publish classified information, she lifts her hand to cover her mouth and brush the underside of her nose. This kind of facial touching means there’s a high likelihood someone is lying, Brown said.
The Behavior: Avoiding Eye Contact
While answering this same question, Sanders avoids eye contact with the reporter. “When people lie, their eye contact either goes into a stare — to overcompensate — or they look away,” Brown said. “One thing Sarah does a lot is look at her notes and pretend she’s reading them, so she doesn’t have to look at the journalist.”
The Behavior: Unnatural Pacing
A big question we had was why Sanders doesn’t try to adjust her behavior to seem more truthful. If you were on TV almost every day, wouldn’t you be watching yourself for every potential misstep? Brown said that he thinks she’s actually probably not watching herself. “Maybe someone’s telling her to just go out and be herself.”
Outside of her more extemporaneous performances in press conferences, however, Sanders delivers more rehearsed quips. In this video, she says, “Democrats love to talk about the ‘War on Women’…the only ‘War on Women’ that I see is the one that’s being waged against every woman and every female that is close to this president.” She used the “War on Women” talking point again on Monday to refer to the Democrats’
opposing Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA director.
Wood’s analysis? “It’s clear from her speed, her ultra-quick, unnaturally paced delivery that this is a planned, rehearsed talking point and she is enjoying hitting the tennis ball back over the fence with it. This misspeaking, with its odd emphasis, could be an indication that she wanted to say, ‘against
me.’ I think she is sincerely feeling like there is a war against her.”
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