Sean Spicer Kicks Off First Press Conference With Self-Deprecation After Prior False Claims
"Our intention is never to lie to you," said Trump's press secretary.
Sean Spicer began his first official press conference as White House press secretary Monday on a conciliatory note — sort of.
He joked that Josh Earnest, President Obama's last press secretary, was voted the most popular press secretary by the White House Correspondents' Association. And that Spicer assured Earnest that his title "is secure, at least for the next couple of days."
Spicer then pivoted to a rundown of President Trump's agenda, including his executive order Monday pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration.
It was not Spicer's first time behind the podium in the James. S. Brady Briefing Room. That came Saturday when he appeared to dispute widespread reporting that Trump's inaugural did not draw as many attendees as President Obama's 2009 inauguration. Much of that reporting was based on photographs comparing crowds gathered on the National Mall from 2009 and last Friday, as well as ridership on the Washington, D.C., metro. After Spicer castigated the media, he left the briefing room without taking questions. On Sunday, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and told Chuck Todd that Spicer was presenting "alternative facts."
Spicer took several questions about policy before ABC News White House correspondent Jonathan Karl waded into the events over the weekend by asking Spicer if he intends to always be honest with the media.
"Our intention is never to lie to you," said Spicer. "It's an honor to do this. I believe that we have to be honest with the American people."
But Spicer also pushed back, saying that sometimes there may be a different interpretation of the facts. Pressed by Karl to reinforce his statement that Trump's inauguration was the most-watched inauguration ever, Spicer said that all the myriad ways consumers can watch now makes it a foregone conclusion. And he said the erroneous numbers he cited for the DC Metro ridership were given to the administration by a service they employed. He pointed out that reporters also make mistakes and was especially animated by an erroneous report by Time magazine's Zeke Miller that said that Trump had removed the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office. Miller corrected his report and apologized for his error.
"We had a tweet go out about Martin Luther King," said Spicer. "Think about how racially charged that is."
Earlier on Saturday during an appearance at CIA headquarters, Trump cited Miller's erroneous report as proof of the media's campaign against him.
"As you know I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth," said Trump, to audible cheers from those gathered.
Later in the press conference, Spicer became animated when asked by CNN's Jim Acosta why the size of the inauguration crowd became such an issue for the administration.
Spicer noted that it was "not just about a crowd size."
"There’s this constant theme to undercut the enormous support that he has," he continued. "He’s gone out there and defied the odds over and over and over again. And he keeps getting told what he can’t do. There’s an overall frustration... There’s this constant attempt to undermine his credibility and the movement that he represents. And it’s frustrating for not just him but so many of us that are working to get this message out."
Acosta wondered is this wasn't just part of the usual dynamic between the press and the president.
"I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never seen it like this," said Spicer. "It’s not about one tweet. It’s not about one picture. It’s about a constant theme. The default narrative is always negative and it’s demoralizing."
Previously, there were reports that the Trump administration may attempt to evict the press corps from its longtime home at the White House, though Reince Priebus earlier this month disputed that the move had anything to do with an animus for the media. Rather, he said, they were looking at finding a larger space for the press than the 49 seats available in the Brady room. And on Monday, Spicer noted that the administration would add four "Skype seats" that would be made available to reporters who live outside the Washington metro area.