Cable news has given White House press secretary Sean Spicer nearly 15 hours of airtime to spout lies on behalf of the administration in the past two weeks, but it’s time for the networks to stop airing his press briefings live. Spicer has shown that he is incapable of living up to his pledge to tell the truth to the press, and cable news should stop giving him a platform to continue lying to the public.
During his first official question and answer session with the press in the White House, on January 23, Spicer answered in the affirmative when ABC’s Jon Karl asked if he would “always tell the truth from that platform,” saying, “It is never our intention to lie to you, Jonathan. … I’m gonna come out here and tell you the facts as I know them.” This came two days after Spicer’s disastrous first official statement to the press from the White House briefing room, in which he repeatedly lied to reporters about the size of crowds at President Donald Trump’s inauguration and berated the media for not adhering to his falsehoods.
At the time, CNN chose to not air Spicer’s statement live, a decision CNN media critic Brian Stelter explained as allowing the network to “monitor the statement [and] then report on it.”
Unfortunately, CNN’s decision to monitor Spicer’s statements before airing them turned out to be the exception instead of the norm. And in the days since Spicer pledged to tell the truth, he has continued to lie from his spot behind the lectern on a variety of topics:
He doubled-down on his claims about inauguration viewers, while changing his tune to say he meant total viewership, not just in-person crowds. He said Trump had “the largest-watched inauguration ever,” even though, as The Washington Post reported, “there’s no evidence” to back up even that narrower claim.
He blamed the media for starting the “myth” that Trump had a “rift” with the intelligence community, even though, as Politico noted, there are “several specific instances” where Trump “publicly disparaged the intelligence community.”
He hyped Trump’s claim that “millions of people ... voted illegally” in the 2016 election, yet when officials searched for cases of voter fraud, they found “next to none,” as The New York Times reported.
He asserted that Trump had an “overwhelming” Electoral College victory, winning the most electoral votes of “any Republican since Reagan,” but his tally actually ranked 46th out of 58 elections in terms of the proportion of the electoral vote he received.
And he claimed that there had been no changes to the makeup of the National Security Council Principals Committee from prior administrations, though NPR reported that Trump’s decision to include his chief strategist (Stephen Bannon) on the committee is “a departure from any past administration.”
Despite the lies the press secretary has told from the lectern, cable news networks are still giving Spicer a platform to spout his falsehoods. In nearly two weeks, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have devoted a combined 14 hours, 58 minutes and 49 seconds of uninterrupted airtime to Spicer’s briefings. Of that total, 3 hours, 19 minutes and 41 seconds were spent on Spicer’s introductions, where he reads, more or less, from a press release and spouts the administration’s talking points. Essentially, cable networks have relinquished airtime to show unfiltered White House propaganda. And it’s not just cable news; some broadcast networks have followed suit, breaking from scheduled midday coverage to listen to Spicer’s lies while other outlets stream the briefings live on Facebook.
While Spicer is far from the only serial liar working in the White House -- that roster includes the president himself -- he is particularly visible. White House press briefings serve a vital role in fostering transparency and keeping an open dialogue between the administration and the press, but that doesn’t mean networks should air them live -- especially when the administration uses them to spread lies and propaganda. The role of the news media is to accurately inform the public. Giving Spicer an unfiltered platform to spout misinformation daily does a disservice to viewers, and cable news must stop this pattern.