NEW YORK — White House press secretary Sean Spicer told a roomful of reporters that “our intention is never to lie to you,” although sometimes the Trump administration may “disagree with the facts.”
Spicer’s first full press briefing was closely watched Monday following a weekend statement about President Donald Trump’s inauguration audience that included incorrect assertions. After White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway received wide social media attention for her explanation that Spicer had presented “alternative facts,” Monday’s briefing was televised live on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and, for a time, even ABC.
Meanwhile, ABC announced that anchor David Muir would interview Trump for a one-hour prime-time special to air at 10 p.m. EST Wednesday.
Spicer tried to defuse tension by opening with a self-deprecating joke about his lack of popularity, and his 78-minute session was wide-ranging and mostly substantive. He corrected one disputed statement from Saturday, defended another and expressed some frustration regarding how the new Trump administration feels about its news coverage.
Asked for a pledge not to lie, Spicer assented, saying, “I believe we have to be honest with the American people.” He said he had received incorrect information about Inauguration day ridership on the Washington Metro system when he initially claimed the system was used more Friday than for Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
“There are times when you tweet something out or write a story and you publish a correction,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you were trying to deceive readers or the American people, does it? I think we should be afforded the same opportunity.”
Spicer didn’t back down from his claim that Trump’s inauguration was the most-seen ever, clarifying that he was including people who watched online. The ceremony didn’t have the highest TV ratings and aerial photographs indicate the live crowd wasn’t as big as it was for Obama’s first swearing-in, but there are no reliable crowd estimates or numbers indicating how many people across the world watched the ceremony online.
He expressed frustration about an erroneous report, later corrected, stating that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from a room in the White House following Trump’s inauguration.
“Where was the apology to the president of the United States?” Spicer said. “Where was the apology to the millions of people who thought that it was racially insensitive?”
One reporter said Spicer had accepted an apology from the news outlet that made the mistake in a pool report.
Spicer would not say whether he was ordered by Trump or other staffers to make Saturday’s statement, but explained some of the thinking that went into it. Like countless White House staffs before them, the Trump team is exasperated about “negative” and “demoralizing” coverage.
“When we’re right, say we’re right,” he said. “When we’re wrong, say we’re wrong. But it’s not always wrong and negative.”
Spicer broke with the White House tradition of opening briefings with a question from The Associated Press. The AP was traditionally given the first question because it is a broad-based news co-operative that represents the largest swath of American newspapers, broadcasters and other kinds of news organizations.
Instead, Spicer initially called on a reporter from the New York Post, and he took questions from several news organizations that were rarely called on during the previous administration. He said four seats in the briefing room would be kept open for out-of-town reporters to participate via Skype.
The new press secretary — who took no questions Saturday — drew a laugh when he said he’d stay at the podium for as long as the reporters wanted him there, and he nearly did.
“I want to make sure we have a healthy relationship,” he said.