Sean Spicer

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  • Trump’s Delegitimization Engine Has Now Claimed The White House Press Office

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump’s communications strategy requires the White House to delegitimize all sources of information that provide unfavorable facts about the administration. The press, the bureaucracy, the Congressional Budget Office, and the judiciary have all been cited as unworthy of the public trust because they dared to contradict the White House line.

    Now Trump is claiming that his own spokespeople also can’t be trusted to provide the real story about his actions.

    This week has seen not only a near-constitutional crisis, but also a cataclysmic communications disaster after the president fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been investigating whether the president’s associates had colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. First, prominent Trump administration figures -- including the vice president -- offered up the obvious lie that Trump fired Comey in response to a recommendation from the Justice Department because Comey had been unfair to Hillary Clinton during the presidential election. Then the president himself admitted that he actually had planned to fire Comey anyway and was acting in response to the FBI director’s handling of the Russia probe.

    With the White House taking heat for promoting what were obvious lies, the president this morning tweeted that it is “not possible” for his surrogates to accurately convey the facts, and that he is considering ending press briefings in favor of sending written statements.

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer proved that his office was unworthy of trust the day after the president was inaugurated, and he lies frequently from the podium. But it’s still remarkable to hear this coming from Trump himself. The comments are significant for several reasons.

    First, it’s an acknowledgment that the president believes that his own top aides can no longer be counted on to accurately convey information about his actions. He is establishing himself as the sole source of truth regarding his administration’s decisions. And given the president’s pattern of lying on a near-constant basis, and shifting his positions with the wind, his statements set up a scenario of perpetual gaslighting.

    Second, it suggests that he may shift the role of the White House Press Office to simply providing propaganda. Traditionally, there is an understanding that the White House has a responsibility to provide information on the administration's positions and responses to events, gained through press briefings where members of the media can ask questions. The fact that the press secretary and deputy press secretary have constantly lied from the podium doesn't mean that the briefings don't serve a purpose in allowing the media to publicly and regularly ask questions of the administration. A shift to a press-release-only model would allow the White House to provide only the answers it wants to the questions it deems worthy of a response, with no opportunity for reporters to ask follow-ups.

    Third, there is no reason to think that White House press releases would be more accurate than comments from the briefing podium. In fact, the official written statement from Spicer provided the same false claims about Comey’s firing that Trump has now renounced.

    Fourth, it's a confirmation that the president believes the real thing that went wrong was that the White House failed to adequately defend his actions, not that he did anything wrong by firing the FBI director because of the way the director was investigating his associates.

    These are dangerous steps that suggest the president is seeking drastic changes in order to better control and manipulate the press. Following Trump’s open admission that he fired the FBI director in part to bring an investigation to a favorable conclusion, reporters should be worried.

    UPDATE: In an interview with Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro set to air Saturday, Donald Trump says he thinks “it’s a good idea” to eliminate press briefings, in part because his aides get "beat up.”

    Earlier today, White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said that “doing away with briefing would reduce accountability, transparency, and the opportunity for Americans to see that, in the U.S. system, no political figure is above being questioned.”

  • Trump Lied About Why He Fired Comey, And Right-Wing Media Helped Him Sell It

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    In a letter explaining his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, President Donald Trump cited “letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending [FBI Director James Comey’s] dismissal as the Director of the” FBI. After removing Comey, various White House officials and right-wing media figures pushed the claim that Trump “took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general” and fired Comey, but days later, Trump himself admitted that he was thinking of "this Russia thing with Trump" and “was going to fire [Comey] regardless of [a] recommendation” from the Department of Justice or the deputy attorney general.

  • By The Numbers: 100 Days In, A Look At The Trump Administration's Conflicted Relationship With The Media

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    As President Donald Trump reaches his 100th day in office, his administration’s relations with the press have not improved. Here’s a look at some numbers that exemplify the conflicts, 100 days into his tenure:

    • At least 130: number of times Trump or his administration have attacked the press, per Media Matters’ running tally. [Media Matters, 4/27/17]
    • 30: number of times Trump has used the phrase “fake news” on Twitter since his inauguration. [ProPublica, accessed 4/27/17]
    • Eight: number of times Trump has referred to the “dishonest media” since his inauguration. [ProPublica, accessed 4/27/17]
    • 11: number of national TV interviews the president has done between his inauguration and his hundredth day, according to a Media Matters count.
    • Eight out of 11: number of Trump’s national televised interviews that will have aired on Fox News or Fox Business in his first 100 days, according to a Media Matters count.
    • 16: number of press briefings the State Department has held during the first 100 days of the administration. Under President Barack Obama, the State Department had 63 press briefings within the first 100 days. [The State Department Bureau of Public Affairs, accessed 4/24/17, 4/24/17]
    • At least 14: number of times White House press secretary Sean Spicer has lied to the press during his daily press briefings. [Media Matters, 1/25/17]
    • 27: number of times Spicer has called on the conservative news outlet One America News Network during his press briefings in the first 100 days of the administration according to a Media Matters count. During that same time period, Spicer called on Breitbart 12 times.
    • 50: number of “years of practice” from which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departed in his decision to travel on an official foreign trip without a press pool, according to The Associated Press. [The Associated Press, 3/14/17]
    • Approximately six: hours of cable news Trump watches per weekday, according to a report compiled by The Washington Post and Axios. [The Washington Post, 1/24/17]
    • 12: number of times Trump has either tweeted at the program Fox & Friends or retweeted the show’s tweets in his first 100 days in office. [ProPublica, accessed 4/24/17]
    • At least four: number of former Fox News personalities Trump has appointed to serve in his administration (Heather Nauert, Ben Carson, Monica Crowley, and KT McFarland). [Fox News, October 2013; NBC, 11/25/16; CNN, 12/15/16; USA Today, 4/25/17]

    Methodology

    To determine how many times Trump has tweeted the words “fake news” since his inauguration, Media Matters searched ProPublica’s database for Trump’s tweets containing the phrase.

    To determine how many national televised interviews Trump has conducted, Media Matters kept track of all TV appearances and compared the results to a search on Nexis.

    To determine how many times Spicer called on One America News Network and Breitbart during press briefings, Media Matters tracked questions Spicer has answered during the press briefings, coding for the name of the journalist and the outlet the journalist is reporting for.

    To find out how many tweets Trump has sent about Fox & Friends, Media Matters searched the ProPublica database for mentions of “fox” in Trump’s tweets.

  • Don't Let Spicer And The Trump Administration Off The Hook For Winking At Anti-Semites

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media shouldn’t be so willing to let White House press secretary Sean Spicer off the hook for his comments comparing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler given the implicit and explicit ways President Donald Trump and his administration have embraced white nationalists. No matter how ineffective, Spicer’s comparison is another example of a wink and a nod to the type of hatred that is a part of this White House’s culture.

    During an April 11 White House press briefing, Spicer likened Assad to Hitler, telling reporters that unlike Assad, “you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” When he was asked to clarify, Spicer said that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” when in reality the German SS and police used poison gas to asphyxiate millions of Jews in concentration camps (which Spicer called “Holocaust centers” in his comments). After repeatedly trying to explain his comments, Spicer ultimately apologized, calling them “inexcusable and reprehensible.” Meanwhile, white nationalists cheered the remarks, praising the press secretary for exposing the “Jewish gas chamber hoax.”​

    Media were quick to accept Spicer’s apology and let him off the hook. Fox News’ Kevin Corke called it “heartfelt and … very unequivocal” and added, “he should be able to move on … quickly.” CNN’s Chris Cillizza said, “I’m going to give Sean the benefit of the doubt,” saying Spicer “got himself into a verbal trap and could not get himself out.” On CNN’s New Day, Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary to former President George W. Bush, accepted Spicer’s apology, adding that “the notion that this is somehow nefarious or indicative of Holocaust denial, I dismiss.” Additionally, CNN commentator David Axelrod tweeted that Spicer has “apologized” for his comments and it’s “time to move on.”

    But this is hardly the first time that Spicer and the Trump administration used obtuse language or offered an implicit nod to the white nationalist community. For instance:

    • Trump hired Stephen Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a "platform for the” white nationalist “alt-right" movement as his chief strategist -- a move that was lavishly praised by white nationalists.

    • At the end of the presidential campaign, Trump ran an ad that Talking Point Memo’s Josh Marshall wrote was “packed with anti-Semitic dog whistles, anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Semitic vocabulary.” Naturally, Trump’s white nationalist supporters loved it, calling it “absolutely fantastic.”

    • The White House failed to mention the Jewish people in a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

    This is in addition to the direct contact Trump and his aides have had with members of the white nationalist community. For instance:

    • According to The New York Times, Trump has “retweeted supportive messages from racist or nationalist” supporters, including “accounts featuring white nationalist or Nazi themes.”

    • Trump refused to disavow former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke during an interview with CNN, drawing praise from his neo-Nazi supporters.

    • The Trump campaign gave press credentials to the white nationalist radio show The Political Cesspool. Donald Trump Jr. also appeared on the radio show to complain about “political correctness.”

    • Former Trump adviser A.J. Delgado retweeted a Trump endorsement from the anti-Semitic hate site The Right Stuff.

    • Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted “love you back” to an anti-Semitic Twitter account.

    Media figures are wrong to simply dismiss Spicer’s Holocaust comments as a hiccup. The connections between the Trump team and the white nationalist community are too strong for Spicer’s comments to be treated as a one-off. Spicer’s blunder is emblematic of the administration’s continuing effort to wink and nod at -- and sometimes openly embrace -- its white nationalist supporters.

  • Sean Spicer's Holocaust Comparison Echoes Fox News

    ››› ››› NINA MAST & CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    The day after a survivor of a 2013 chemical attack in Syria said in a Fox News interview that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “worse than” Adolf Hitler, White House press secretary Sean Spicer seemed to parrot the claim when he compared Assad to Hitler, falsely adding that Hitler did not use chemical weapons. Spicer’s comments also echo those made by a Fox analyst in 2013 on fringe website World Net Daily (WND). But it is universally accepted that the Nazis under Hitler did in fact use chemical weapons to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, and Spicer’s gaffe is yet another example of the Trump administration internalizing talking points heard on Fox News.

  • How Cable TV Inadvertently Shined A Light On The Obstacles Women Of Color Face In The Workplace

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    The intersectional discrimination women of color often face while doing their jobs was put on full display this past week when Fox host Bill O’Reilly and White House press secretary Sean Spicer attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and veteran journalist April Ryan on their appearance and body language, respectively. The incidences, which both occurred in unusually public settings, inadvertently shined a light on the discrimination women of color too often face in their workplaces, while the subsequent reactions from right-wing media underscored the problems that hold women of color back.

    This week, cable TV viewers watched as O’Reilly mocked Waters’ hair, saying, “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.” That same day, Spicer lashed out at Ryan -- who had previously been at the receiving end of President Donald Trump’s overtly racist remarks -- interrupting their back-and-forth to comment, “Please stop shaking your head again.” The same week, The New York Times reported that two female African-American Fox News employees were suing the network over “top-down racial harassment” that was “reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.”

    The pile-on of attacks revealed a unique obstacle women of color confront in their daily lives: the compounding effects of gender and racial discrimination. Researchers acknowledge that there is a dearth of research examining the intersection between sexist and racist attacks in the workplace. A number of studies, however, have revealed concerning statistics about barriers to success that women of color face. CNN reported on a University of California Hastings College of the Law study, writing, “While 66% of the women scientists [professor Joan] Williams studied (including white women) reported having to provide more evidence of competence than men, 77% of black women said they experienced that.” There have been multiple studies that highlight “unconscious bias” against women, and others that reveal more overt discrimination -- both of which have serious consequences in the long run.

    Additionally, research shows that sexual harassment is more prevalent for women of color than it is for white women. Researchers at Fordham University School of Law attributed this phenomenon to “racialized sex stereotypes that pervade sexual harassment.”

    Studies and anecdotes continue to reaffirm the double hurdle women of color must clear in order to get hired, get promoted, and earn equal pay.

    The problems surrounding equal pay exemplify the issues unique to women of color. Recent research on the gender pay gap by the American Association of University Women found that “progress” to close income disparities between genders “has stalled in recent years” and that the pay gaps between genders and between racial/ethnic groups “cannot be explained by factors known to affect earnings and is likely due, at least in part, to discrimination.” The Center for American Progress recently found that while women overall earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns, that gap widens by 19 cents for black women compared to white men. This “translates into an average lifetime earnings gap of $877,480 for each African-American woman versus her white male counterparts.” Latina women appear to fare even worse than other minorities; Pew Research Center estimated that in 2015, Latinas earned 58 cents for every dollar a man earned compared to the 82 cents per dollar that white women earn.

    Furthermore, conservative media outlets often obfuscate the issue of gender and racial discrimination in the workplace, which creates an obstacle in addressing the root of the problem. Right-wing media have repeatedly justified -- or denied the existence of -- the gender pay gap and have attempted to undermine progress in closing the gap.

    And while many people rallied in support of Waters and Ryan, many conservative figures ignored, defended, or even cheered on the assailants. USA Today pointed out that “Breitbart, the news site with ties to Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, didn't appear to mention O'Reilly's comment, but published a post called ‘Maxine Waters: Something is “wrong” with Trump “He doesn't deserve to be president.”'” One conservative pundit covered up for O’Reilly’s sexist and racist commentary, falsely equating his attack on Waters to liberals calling Trump “orange.” Spicer received a similar wave of support from conservative outlets for his attacks on Ryan.

    Experts say that the discrimination that women of color face while doing their jobs is difficult to prove. But this past week, cable TV viewers witnessed them firsthand. Impunity for O'Reilly and Spicer after their attacks on Waters and Ryan could make it even more difficult for women of color to eliminate barriers to their success.

    Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • Did News Outlets Finally Learn Their Lesson About Trump’s Exaggerated Jobs Announcements?

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Since his election, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed credit for private businesses’ decisions to invest in the United States. His flimsy and misleading boasts have been routinely amplified by compliant media outlets before the claims eventually collapse under scrutiny. Yet the response from mainstream journalists to the president’s latest jobs boast seems to indicate that perhaps some outlets have “caught on” to Trump’s exaggerated pronouncements and have stopped taking them at face value.

    On March 27, The Detroit News broke the news that the Ford Motor Co. has announced an investment of “$1.2 billion in three Michigan facilities” and that most of the investment was brokered in 2015 as part of the company’s contract with the United Auto Workers union. Roughly $350 million of that total investment represents new money, but Ford is expected to “add or retain” only 130 jobs -- a marginal amount compared to the 201,000 people the company employs worldwide.

    Trump moved early the next day to take credit, tweeting that Ford would announce an investment “in three Michigan plants” and that “car companies [are] coming back to the U.S.” before concluding, “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!” Later in the day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer pointed to the Ford announcement as proof that “the president’s economic agenda is what American businesses have been waiting for.”

    In the past few months, Media Matters has chronicled dozens of occasions when outlets stumbled over themselves to credit Trump for creating new American jobs based on his misleading claims of playing a role in private sector business decisions that he had little to do with. (See: Alibaba, Carrier, Ford, SoftBank.)

    Trump’s tweet about Ford seemed poised to inspire more of the same media fawning, but journalists who covered the news largely downplayed Trump’s role rather than falling for his boast. The Washington Post, USA Today, Bloomberg, and Reuters all reported that the majority of the Ford investment plan far predated the Trump administration and was part of the company’s long-term restructuring plan for its American factories.

    New York Times columnist and MSNBC contributor Steven Rattner noted that “The big news ended up being only 130 jobs” and asked of the president, “When will he stop misleading [people]?” CNBC reporter Jacob Pramuk reported that the “White House on Tuesday promoted a Ford investment in American plants” even though “most of [the money] was part of a plan the automaker first announced in 2015.” Vox senior correspondent Matt Yglesias highlighted that CNBC article on Twitter and commented that reporters were “catching on” to Trump’s game. Washington Post reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee pointed out that the Ford investment “had nothing to do [with] Trump’s election.” Meanwhile, New York Times correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum mocked Trump by writing that the president’s tweet contained “three more exclamation points … than the number of new jobs that Ford created today.” In his write-up of Trump’s announcement, CNNMoney senior writer Chris Isidore added that “Ford isn't bringing any work back to the United States from Mexico, or any other foreign country” -- a blow to Trump’s claim that automakers are “coming back to the U.S.”

    In contrast to the sober reporting from mainstream media, right-wing outlets that are aligned with Trump continued to promote his unsubstantiated role in creating jobs for American workers. The “alt-right” website Breitbart.com promoted the Ford story under the banner “TRUMP JOBS BOOM CONTINUES” while the sycophants at Fox News called the investment deal “another win for American workers” and Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy hyped the investment plan by stating, “Oh, it’s so much winning.” From the March 28 edition of Fox & Friends:

    As the White House has become embroiled in scandal and legislative failure, Trump has flooded the news cycle with lies far more outrageous than his attempt to take credit for jobs he didn’t create. Journalists, therefore, still need to be mindful of the administration’s attempts to build up the myth of Trump as a unique dealmaker and economic leader.