White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer got his first taste of answering questions in the James S. Brady Press Room yesterday afternoon. Those hoping for a few fiery exchanges were not disappointed.
Still, the overall tone was lighter and more measured than Spicer's behavior on Saturday, where he railed (falsely) against the press for misrepresenting attendance numbers for President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Monday’s briefing began casually, with Spicer making a few jokes that didn’t hit -- they rarely do from the briefing-room podium -- and offered a readout of Trump’s whereabouts, phone calls and meetings.
The briefing began unconventionally, with the New York Post getting the first swing, Spicer eventually got to the major networks that typically lead off. Spicer even took a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta who was shunned by Donald Trump in his press conference two weeks ago.
In a poignant moment of the afternoon, which could have gotten out of hand if not for the correspondent’s restraint, Jon Karl of ABC News asked: “Is it your intention to always tell the truth?”
“It is,” Spicer answered, providing a lengthy convoluted response: “It’s an honor to do this, and yes, I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may miss.”
Questions of truth and fiction remain in the rocky relationship between the Trump White House and the press corps.
The White House press corps must sustain tough questions throughout Trump's term. We heard questions about truth today and following up on campaign promises. Press scrutiny must continue; the public expects no less. The pressure for accountability must not wane.
Normalizing the Trump White House's hostility to the press or casual indifference to facts is dangerous and foolhardy. Spicer still doubled down on falsehoods; he focused on semantics rather than stating the facts in a straightforward, credible manner.
Specifically, Trump has no replacement for the Affordable Care Act. In addition, his top staffers still hold various stances and beliefs that are anathema to the American way of life. The new president is not "draining the swamp"; he has invited it into the White House.“Ask any student of authoritarianism. Extremes that freak people out are followed by normal-sounding backtracks,” notes Jay Rosen, associate professor of journalism at NYU and author of PressThink, a weblog about journalism and its ordeals.