Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts made headlines across the globe on Tuesday when he left an off-camera briefing before it was finished — but the TV veteran says it was just two friends joking around and the whole thing was blown out of proportion.
“Sarah Huckabee Sanders and I have a very, very good relationship. We talk all the time but we also kibitz with each other,” Roberts told TheWrap.
“When the briefing started, I participated. I asked her a couple of questions. And then it got close to 3 o’clock and I have a hit at the top of the hour,” Roberts said. “If the White House briefing were on-camera, it would have been the White House briefing that was on TV and I would not have had to go out and do a hit. I tried my best to unobtrusively sneak out of the Brady briefing room but, because Sarah and I have this relationship, where we needle each other, she needled me on the way out.”
Sanders made a comment that Roberts must be bored, so the Fox News reporter playfully fired back, “Well if it was on camera, I might not be.”
Roberts said that everyone in the room sort of went, “Whoa,” despite the fact that he had a smile on his face the entire time. He went out of the room to do his live shot, and by the time he was finished the briefing had concluded. Roberts said he spoke with Sanders four times after the exchange and joked about how certain media organizations were turning it into a bigger deal that it really was.
“There is no problem between Sarah and me. The different ways it was interpreted was really quite amazing. I now have some understanding of what the president is talking about,” Roberts said of Trump’s habit of saying he isn’t treated fairly by the media.
“The New York Post said that I stormed out. Some other publication said that I left in a huff. I mean, it could not have been further from the truth,” Roberts said.
The Fox News White House reporter admits that more briefings should be conducted on camera and that the White House has “gone too far” in trying to prove a point. He noted off the top of his head that there hasn’t been an on-camera briefing in 21 days, which is 15 business days. However, Roberts understands the point Trump’s White House is trying to make by forcing news organizations to turn the cameras off.
“I know what the White House is concerned about. It thinks that some people in that briefing room are looking for confrontational moments to put on TV as opposed to actually gleaning information,” Roberts said.
Roberts said on-camera briefings are good for the American people to see “democracy unfold” but notices a difference in the tone of questions when the cameras are turned off.
“The tone and the tenor of the questions is very different when it’s off camera,” he said. “The White House does have a little but of a point that people are grandstanding, if you will, in order to get a confrontational sound bite.”
Roberts said the White House needs to strike a balance between “accessibility and decorum” if viewers want to see daily on-camera briefings anytime soon. He thinks on-camera briefings will return after a “cooling off period”
“On days when the president isn’t out there, I think it behooves the White House to put somebody on camera,” Roberts said.