Sean Spicer | Media Matters for America

Sean Spicer

Tags ››› Sean Spicer
  • Spicer’s GMA interview shows why news networks would be nuts to hire him

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Since he exited the White House, President Donald Trump’s former press secretary Sean Spicer has been feted by Hollywood at the Emmy Awards, nabbed a coveted slot as a fellow at Harvard University, and started lining up high-dollar speaking gigs for business groups. But his effort to monetize the political celebrity status he acquired by famously lying to the public before it fades has hit a major snag: Unlike many of his predecessors, he has reportedly found that the major TV news organizations are unwilling to sign him to a lucrative contract as a paid contributor. Per NBC’s Claire Atkinson, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, and NBC News have all passed on offering him a job. According to The Daily Beast, even the pro-Trump One America News Network isn’t interested in Spicer.

    The networks are reportedly unwilling to sign Spicer to a deal for the same reason he became a household name: He has no credibility after lying for the president at a near-comical rate and serving in the vanguard of the Trump administration's war on the press. And while Spicer himself continues to deny that he has a credibility problem, his first TV news interview -- on ABC’s Good Morning America today -- demolished any case for giving him a media gig. Over the course of his sit-down with Paula Faris, Spicer demonstrated an ongoing lack of candor and a refusal to take responsibility for his past actions that makes him a poor investment for a news network. Indeed, he seemed to vindicate their reported concerns, point by point.

    Spicer’s lack of contrition for lying from the White House podium was reportedly an issue for network executives. And on GMA, Spicer furthered this impression. As Faris ran down one falsehood after another, Spicer denied that he ever “knowingly” lied to the American people, an obvious untruth that further dismantles his credibility.

    Media executives reportedly worried that “they would be paying him to uncritically spout Team Trump talking points.” That was certainly the case during this morning’s interview. Spicer offered no criticism of the president. When pressed about the administration’s contradictory statements on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, for example, he described the president’s statement that he fired Comey because of his handling of the Russia investigation -- a dramatic turnaround from the White House’s prior explanation of the firing that suggested potential obstruction of justice -- as Trump setting the record “straight.”

    “Some executives,” The Daily Beast reported, “were also not enthused about Spicer and the Trump administration’s ‘degrading’ treatment of TV journalists.” Asked by Faris about his “combative relationship with the press corps,” Spicer offered explanations before lashing out at journalists who had “questioned my integrity.”

    Faris’ interview also opened up a new problem for Spicer’s potential employers. Spicer repeatedly refused to address questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump White House, including whether he had hired a lawyer or been subpoenaed. Every political contributor at a broadcast or cable network is likely to be called upon for segment after segment about that investigation in the coming months. Why hire someone who can’t (or won’t) discuss it -- especially if the reason they won’t do so is for fear of their own legal jeopardy?

    In fact, an item this morning from Axios’ Mike Allen demonstrates the confluence of Spicer’s ongoing mistreatment of journalists and the Russia investigation. Allen, who has known Spicer for many years, reached out to him for comment for a story about Spicer’s voluminous notes from meetings at the Trump campaign and White House potentially becoming an item of interest for Mueller’s investigation. Spicer responded by warning Allen that if the reporter continued sending him “unsolicited texts and emails,” Spicer would “contact the appropriate legal authorities to address your harassment.”

    From time to time, journalists either mock or scorn individuals who don’t seem to realize the fundamentals of reporting -- the people who seem to think journalists need to get permission to film public demonstrations, or request approval to quote from tweets. But Spicer isn’t an ignorant civilian -- he’s a political communications professional with decades of experience who recently served in the White House, and he’s threatening a reporter with legal consequences for seeking a comment.

    Imagine signing Spicer to a cushy network contributor gig, then needing to field requests for comment from reporters who want to know why your new hire is engaging in that sort of behavior.

    Thus far, media outlets appear to be doing a solid job of refusing to reward Spicer’s atrocious behavior. That’s good news. As I warned in July, treating Spicer like any other flack and offering him a media gig after he left the White House would establish a horrendous incentive structure, in which those who lie to the public and try to undermine and berate the press receive no punishment for their actions.

    This is a dramatic change in behavior from last year, when CNN hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was notorious for not only berating but also physically assaulting and sexually harassing journalists. For its money, the network got an unrepentant Trump shill, a series of ethical scandals, and the contempt and mockery of other journalists. Per the Beast, this PR disaster has been “instructive” for media executives “in what not to do.” I suppose the lesson is better learned late than never.

    But the lesson is very expensive for Spicer, who apparently will not be drawing a six-figure salary from a media outlet anytime soon. He won’t starve, of course -- there will be plenty of business groups willing to pay up to hear him speak, and no doubt he’ll be able to line up a consulting gig eventually.

    Then again, given the hourly rate of the white-collar lawyers White House aides have been hiring to deal with the Mueller investigation, Spicer may need every dollar he can get.

  • DOJ revealed that Trump lied about Obama wiretapping him. Fox News covered it for 30 seconds.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    More than any other news outlet in the country, Fox News had a responsibility to cover the Justice Department’s declaration that there is no evidence to justify President Donald Trump’s March lie that President Barack Obama had illegally wiretapped his communications during the 2016 presidential election. But after the network’s hosts and contributors spent weeks trying to defend the president’s baseless charge -- to the point that their reporting triggered an international incident -- the network has given only 30 seconds of airtime to DOJ’s revelation last Friday that the claim was bunk.

    On the morning of Saturday, March 4, Trump tweeted that Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” shortly before the 2016 election, which the president deemed “McCarthyism” and “A NEW LOW!” Trump provided no evidence for his charge, which seems to have been based on a right-wing radio rumor that had been highlighted by Breitbart.com. Over the next few weeks, the president’s claim was denied by Obama’s spokesperson, his director of national intelligence, the directors of the National Security Agency and FBI, and the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees. And then this past Friday, Trump’s Justice Department stated in a court filing that there was no evidence to support his claim.

    The Justice Department’s disclosure should be a big deal. “Make no mistake, this information is embarrassing. It's embarrassing because the president said something that wasn't true at all and the federal government knew it wasn't true back in March when [then-FBI director James] Comey testified, and your taxpayer dollars keep being used to investigate this fiction,” CNN’s Jake Tapper explained on Tuesday. “The Trump administration has made any number of attempts to try to force the claim into somewhere near the possibility of a neighborhood of maybe true. ... But the bottom line is and always has been there is no evidence that Donald Trump was wiretapped by Barack Obama. It was and continues to be a lie, and no holiday weekend Friday night document dump is going to cover that up.”

    Many mainstream news outlets covered the DOJ’s declaration, though it did not receive the level of full-spectrum attention one might expect from a federal agency effectively acknowledging that the president made up an attack on his predecessor. As Tapper suggests, the disclosure on a Friday evening before a holiday weekend likely played a role in the coverage; other breaking stories, such as continuing coverage of Hurricane Harvey, also probably had an impact.

    But while both CNN and MSNBC found time to cover the wiretapping story over the weekend and into this week, Fox has been entirely uninterested in examining the president’s embarrassment.* The network’s coverage of the Justice Department’s disclosure came in a single 30-second Saturday night news brief:

    Trump’s charge was always an easily identifiable lie. But the pro-Trump pundits at Fox -- who are always eager to push an attack on Obama, no matter how far-fetched -- rallied around the president in the days after he issued the claim, desperately searching for ways to justify his claim.

    Sean Hannity led the charge, tweeting, “What did OBAMA know and when did he know it??” in response to Trump’s initial tweet, and devoting time in every broadcast the following week to defending Trump’s lie. Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning news show, also played a key role, seeking to support Trump by mainstreaming conspiracy theories from the dregs of the internet.

    The network’s effort to bend over backward to defend the president’s lie culminated when senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano reported that Obama had enlisted a British intelligence service to spy on Trump. Napolitano’s claim, which appeared to have originated with the state-sponsored Russian news network RT, was subsequently cited by then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer to defend Trump; was publicly denied by the British intelligence service; led to a “diplomatic row” between the two countries; was cited by Trump himself as evidence he had been right; and was repudiated by Fox, with anchor Shep Smith saying the network could not confirm Napolitano’s reporting. The senior judicial analyst received a brief suspension -- when he returned to the Fox airwaves roughly two weeks later, Napolitano said he still stood by his claims.

    After doing its best to back up Trump’s baseless claim that Obama wiretapped him, Fox had a responsibility to tell its viewers the truth. Instead, the network is mostly hiding the federal government’s own repudiation of the charge.

    * Coverage was assessed by searching all three networks’ transcripts via the Nexis and SnapStream databases.

  • Roger Stone says he's in communication with the White House about the Seth Rich lawsuit

    Stone was one of the first to push conspiracy theories about Rich’s murder, and he has called on Rich’s parents to be “charged with obstruction” of the investigation into their son’s death

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Roger Stone is doing damage control following the filing of a lawsuit alleging a scheme by Fox News and Trump administration officials -- including possibly the president himself -- to use the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich to absolve the Trump campaign of accusations it coordinated with Russia.

    During an appearance on Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory program, Stone said that officials he has spoken to at the White House are calling the lawsuit “bogus” and that he thinks the lawsuit will be dismissed “summarily.”  

    NPR reported on August 1 on a defamation lawsuit filed by Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler against 21st Century Fox, Fox News, Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman, and frequent Fox guest Ed Butowsky.

    Wheeler alleges that Zimmerman published fake quotations attributed to him in a since-retracted May 16 story about Rich, and that Trump administration officials, including the president himself, were involved in crafting the story. The retracted story suggested that Rich, rather than Russia, provided WikiLeaks with emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.

    Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged to NPR that he did meet with Butowsky and Wheeler prior to the story’s publication. The lawsuit also alleges that Trump himself reviewed the Zimmerman story before it ran.

    Rich was murdered in Washington, D.C., in July 2016 in what local police believe was a botched robbery attempt. Conspiracy theories began spreading within weeks of Rich’s death and percolated throughout fringe right-wing media for nearly a year before finally exploding into the national conversation thanks to Fox News host Sean Hannity, who continuously hyped Zimmerman’s May 16 report.

    During the August 1 broadcast of conspiracy theory program The Alex Jones Show, Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, said, “My sources at Fox and my sources in the White House tell me that the lawsuit filed by the black private investigator, former D.C. police officer, is completely and totally bogus.” Stone also added that he thinks the lawsuit will be quickly dismissed.

    Stone was one of the first prominent figures to promote conspiracy theories about Rich’s death.  

    On August 9, 2016, less than a month after Rich’s death, Stone included Rich in a group of four murdered people for whom he blamed the Clintons:

    In recent months, Stone has turned his sights on Rich’s parents, first calling their behavior regarding the investigation into their son’s death “suspicious,” and most recently saying that Rich’s “parents should be charged with obstruction" of the investigation.

  • Trump administration met with a GOP donor and a Fox contributor about a fake story meant to distract from Russia probe

    A new lawsuit alleges that Trump personally helped Fox create fake news regarding Seth Rich, and Sean Spicer admits that he took a meeting with two people involved in the story

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A new NPR report confirms that the Trump administration met with a Republican donor and Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler about a now-debunked FoxNews.com report that pushed false claims about Seth Rich, a deceased Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer. As reported by NPR, according to a subsequent lawsuit filed by Wheeler, the donor gave talking points about the Rich conspiracy theory not only to Wheeler but also to other Fox News employees, messaging that was then parroted on Fox & Friends and Sean Hannity’s show.

    Wheeler's lawsuit also alleges that President Donald Trump helped with the article in order to distract from the ongoing controversy about Trump’s possible ties to Russia. Trump, people in Trump’s inner circle, and Fox News have all previously spread fake news and downplayed and delegitimized efforts to counter the spread of fake news.

    In May, a Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C., claimed that Wheeler, who is a private investigator, said police had told him that they were told to stand down regarding the death of Rich, a DNC staffer killed in what law enforcement has concluded was likely a botched robbery attempt. The affiliate also said that Wheeler said it was “confirmed” that Rich had spoken to WikiLeaks, which published thousands of leaked DNC emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.

    FoxNews.com reporter Malia Zimmerman subsequently published an article on the site quoting Wheeler as saying, “My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks,” and, “My investigation shows someone within the D.C. government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward.” According to the lawsuit, in conjunction with the FoxNews.com story, the Republican donor who brought Wheeler and Zimmerman together also suggested talking points to "various Fox News producers" and Fox & Friends on-air personalities, as well as to Wheeler for use on Hannity’s program. Both Fox News shows parroted the suggested messaging within days.

    But the story was quickly debunked, with Wheeler admitting he had no evidence and D.C. police saying Wheeler’s supposed claim was false. Fox News was forced to later retract the story. Yet Hannity, who ran with the report, continued to push the conspiracy theory even after the retraction.

    Wheeler, in an August 1 lawsuit against 21st Century Fox, Fox News, Zimmerman, and the Republican donor, investor/Trump supporter Ed Butowsky, now claims that Zimmerman made up those quotes she attributed to him. Wheeler claims that Trump was given the article in advance to review and urged its publication, and that the supposedly fabricated quotes were published “because that is the way the President wanted the article.” Wheeler added that Zimmerman and Butowsky, who bankrolled Wheeler’s original investigation into Rich’s murder, “had created fake news to advance President Trump’s agenda.” Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer -- who had said in May that he knew nothing about the story -- has now confirmed to NPR that he met with Wheeler and Butowsky to discuss the article before it was published, adding that he did not know of any involvement by Trump.

    Here’s audio of Spicer denying knowledge of the Rich story in May:

    The allegations come after Trump and his inner circle have worked tirelessly to cloud the actual meaning of fake news while spreading fake news stories themselves. Trump and his aides, echoing right-wing media including Fox News, have repeatedly called legitimate news stories and outlets they do not like “fake news.” People close to Trump, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, have pushed fake news -- as has Trump himself. Additionally, federal investigators are looking into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign digital operation, headed by Brad Parscale along with Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm hired by the campaign, colluded with Russia to target voters in specific states with fake news.

    And this would also not be the first time that Fox News has spread fake news. Last October, Fox hosts Howard Kurtz and Megyn Kelly both reported a fake news story that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called supporters of her primary opponent Bernie Sanders a “bucket of losers.” Kelly subsequently apologized for reporting the fake quote. In April, FoxNews.com published an article from the British tabloid The Sun that reported fake news originating from Russian state media; Fox later removed the article after The New York Times asked the outlet about it. Additionally, Fox News repeatedly tried to minimize and dismiss concerns about fake news after the 2016 election, calling them "nonsense” and “a fake story,” and claiming that fake news is actually just “in the eye of the beholder." And when Facebook considered (and later implemented) the idea of partnering with fact-checking organizations to fact-check potential fake news stories on its platform, Fox criticized the fact-checkers for having “a liberal bias” and a “proven” bias “against conservatives.”

  • Don’t hire Sean Spicer

    Trump's press secretary spent months lying and attacking the press. Networks shouldn’t pay him to do it.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: Shortly after the publication of this post, news broke that financier Anthony Scaramucci had been forced out of his position as White House communications director, which was announced 11 days ago and scheduled to begin next month. He was reportedly escorted from the building this morning. It is currently unclear if he will take another job in the White House or the administration. In the event that he does not stay in the administration, networks shouldn't hire him, either


    Outgoing White House press secretary Sean Spicer will need a new job when his tenure in the Trump administration concludes at the end of August, and he’s apparently hoping that one of the news outlets he’s spent the year berating will step up and pay him a salary.

    Spicer spent last Wednesday “in talks with major broadcasters about a new career in TV where he can share his insider knowledge of President Trump,” according to The New York Post, which reported that Spicer took meetings with top executives at the Manhattan headquarters of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News.

    It has become customary in recent decades for high-ranking White House communications advisers to convert their public service into a high-paying media sinecure. Former President George W. Bush’s White House aides Dana Perino and Nicolle Wallace and President Barack Obama’s advisers Jen Psaki and Josh Earnest are among the long list to make this transition. In return for their media salaries, these aides-turned-political-analysts offer network viewers an inside look at how messaging decisions are made at the highest level.

    But if network executives have a modicum of self-respect and the slightest sense of self-preservation, they will not offer Spicer this deal. To give the former White House press secretary a mainstream media gig would ensure that Trump’s communications aides face no punishment whatsoever for using the imprimatur of the White House to lie to and seek to undermine reporters. With that incentive structure firmly in place, there is no reason to expect that behavior to change. If networks are helpless to prevent this assault on their work, surely they can at least avoid rewarding it.

    President Donald Trump’s administration has been driven by a vicious, unyielding effort to destroy the credibility of journalists, setting them up as the “the opposition party” and the “enemy of the American people” in order to call their reporting into question. Spicer could have used his position to provide some space from the administration’s vitriol. Instead, he was an unapologetic leader in this campaign, regularly denouncing journalists for producing “fake news.” Spicer reportedly had a “strong antipathy toward both political journalism as a craft, and political journalists as a class of people” long before he joined the administration. There is no reason to think he would halt those attacks once he received a network salary, and indeed, that platform might make his attacks ever more potent. Why would a credible media outlet hire someone who holds journalism in contempt?

    Trump constantly tells lies, great and small, creating an immense challenge for journalists who have to sift through his statements and compare them to reality. In turn, Trump’s obviously false statements regularly puts his aides to the test, forcing them to decide whether they are willing to stand by those lies. But Spicer never seemed to have a problem choosing between Trump and the truth -- he was willing to say literally anything, no matter how absurd, in order to defend Trump. There is no reason to think that he wouldn’t do the same on air if a network put him on its payroll. Why would a credible media outlet hire someone who doesn’t clear even the lowest possible bar for truth-telling?

    Network executives who may be tempted to think that Spicer offers them more in value than they’d lose in credibility should take heed of the humiliation CNN put itself through last year. The network hired Corey Lewandowski shortly after he was fired from his post as Trump’s campaign manager, in spite of Lewandowski’s notoriety for verbal assaults and physical altercations with journalists. For all intents and purposes, Trump found a way to give Lewandowski a raise at the network’s expense, as the former aide continued to advise the candidate, travel with him, receive hefty “severance” checks from the campaign, and use his on-air time to defend every indefensible Trump action. After network head Jeff Zucker repeatedly defended the move while sustaining months of criticism from journalists of all stripes, CNN suffered the final indignity when Lewandowski resigned, seeking a job in the administration.

    CNN, which has experienced the most hostile attacks from the Trump administration of them all, is notably the only network to publicly say it is not interested in hiring Spicer. According to network host Brian Stelter, the decision is a deliberate response to “those anti-media attacks, the criticism of CNN and other outlets, all of the sort of inaccurate and false statements from the podium.” If CNN has truly learned its lesson -- and I am somewhat skeptical of a network that retains Jason Miller, Jeffrey Lord, and Kayleigh McEnany as on-air pro-Trump shills -- that’s a good sign.

    It’s also a good example for executives from the other networks, who may face a revolt from the journalists they employ if the hand a six-figure salary to one of their main antagonists. Opposition to a Spicer hire is already seeping onto MSNBC’s airwaves. “What hypocrites any broadcast network will be if they hire him,” anchor Thomas Roberts said last night before turning to look behind himself in the studio. “And he’s not here yet, but I’m just saying, what hypocrites every network will be if they hire Sean Spicer.”

    Networks seeking to maintain their credibility in the face of a White House assault on the press without recent precedent should pass on Spicer. If he’s going to get a media payday, let it be from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. That network’s hosts and analysts regularly defend whatever the president says, and for decades they’ve sought to undermine the rest of the press for their own benefit. Spicer can have a seat on Fox & Friends’ curvy couch in the morning and do hits on Sean Hannity’s show at night. He’ll fit right in.

  • Five warning signs from new White House communications director Scaramucci's first press conference

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    1. He refused to commit to the return of regular on-camera press briefings.

    JON KARL: I see the cameras are back, will you commit now to holding regular on-camera briefings? 

    ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: If [Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders] provides hair and makeup, I will consider it. But I need a lot of hair and makeup, Jon, OK? […] I am up here today only because I think it's the first day; we made a mutual decision that would make sense for me to come up here and try to answer as many questions as possible. But -- and the answer is we may. I have to talk to the president about that. I like consulting with the president before I make decisions like that.

    2. When asked if he’ll promise “accurate information and truth,” he responded "I sort of feel like I don't even have to answer that question," adding “I hope you can feel that from me, just from my body language.”

    KARL: There's been a question about credibility, some things that have been said in this room. Let me ask you a variation of what I asked Sean Spicer on his first day. Is it your commitment to, to the best of your ability, give accurate information and truth from that podium? 

    SCARAMUCCI: I sort of feel like I don't even have to answer that question. I hope you can feel that from me, just from my body language, that's the kind of person I am. I'm going to do the best I can.

    3. He deflected from a question about the Russia investigation by bragging about President Trump's supposed sports abilities.

    SARA MURRAY: Obviously we know the president has been feeling under siege with the Russia investigation, both from the Department of Justice but also on the Hill. Do you feel like he was feeling exposed? He didn't have people adequately coming to his defense? Is that part of the reason that we have you here today? 

    SCARAMUCCI: No, I don’t think so. So, one of the things that I’m doing today is – I sort of didn’t have my White House counsel briefing before I'm having the press briefing, so I want to limit my remarks related to the Russia situation and things like that. But here's what I'll tell you about the president: he's the most competitive person I've ever met, OK? I’ve seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I've seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, he's standing in the key and he's hitting foul shots and swishing them, OK? He sinks three-foot putts. I don't see this guy as a guy that's ever under siege. This is a very, very competitive person. Obviously there's a lot of incoming that comes into the White House, but the president’s a winner, OK, and what we're going to do is we're going to do a lot of winning.

    4. He said “I sort of don’t like the fake news,” and claimed “there feels like there’s a little bit of media bias” out there. 

    MURRAY: One other question, in terms of the relationship that this press operation has had with news outlets, they've made a habit of calling these outlets they don't like "fake news," calling stories they don't like "fake news," calling errors that were then corrected -- using that as an example to call entire news outlets "fake news," is that the kind of relationship you want with media outlets? What kind of -- how do you envision that relationship?

    SCARAMUCCI: Again, I will speak for myself right now, because I don't -- it's my first day on the job, I've got to get familiar with everybody, get direction from the president, but I had a personal incident with your news organization and I thought I handled it well. You guys said something about me that was totally unfair and untrue, you retracted it and issued me an apology, and I accepted the apology immediately. For me, I've never been a journalist, but I have played a journalist on television. I used to host Wall Street Week for Fox Business, so I have empathy for journalists in terms of sometimes they're going to get stories wrong. But I sort of don't like the fake news, and if you said to me that there is some media bias out there – if you want me to be as candid as I would like to be with you guys -- there feels like there's a little bit of media bias, and so what we hope we can do is de-escalate that and turn that around and let’s let the message from the president get out there to the American people.

    5. He claimed there's "probably some level of truth" to the lie that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 general election "if the president says it."  

    REPORTER: Do you stand by some of the factual claims that have been contested, that have been made by this administration -- three million illegal votes cast for the president's opponent? Do you now, do you endorse all of those statements of fact [inaudible]? 

    SCARAMUCCI: So, a little bit of an unfair question because I'm not up to speed on all of that, so I just got to candidly tell you that. 

    REPORTER: The president said that three million people voted illegally and there is no evidence of that. Do you stand by that or not?

    SCARAMUCCI: OK, so if the president says it, OK, let me do more research on it. My guess is that there's probably some level of truth to that. I think what we have found sometimes, the president says stuff, some of you guys in the media think it's not true or isn't true, and it turns out it is closer to the truth than people think. So let me do more homework on that and I'll get back to you.

  • The lights are going down on the Sean Spicer show. Here’s the mess he leaves behind.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    UPDATE: At today's press briefing, new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci announced that Sarah Huckabee Sanders will replace Sean Spicer as press secretary. Sanders has a long record of lying and attacking the press on President Donald Trump's behalf, and she will doubtlessly continue Spicer's shameful record. 

    Sean Spicer is on his way out, The New York Times reports, resigning from his post at the end of August to protest President Donald Trump’s plan to make financier Anthony Scaramucci his new communications director. But the former White House press secretary will not be forgotten. A respected Republican political operative who served as communications director for the Republican National Committee, Spicer provided establishment polish to the president’s war on the media, serving as the administration’s heavy until Trump grew tired of his performance. As much as any other member of the president’s team, Spicer is responsible for the dissolution of political norms that Trump’s administration has effected as it tries to delegitimize its critics in order to maintain power.

    Spicer turned the daily press briefings from a give-and-take between reporters and a White House seeking to inform the public into a grueling battleground where journalists were constantly denigrated for diverting from the party line. When he wasn’t lashing out at mainstream reporters, he was trying to stack the deck with more favorable questions by elevating representatives from conservative outlets -- particularly through the innovation of “Skype seats.” The length of the briefings -- which were short to begin with -- had plummeted in recent months, with the press office often demanding that they be kept off-camera.

    Spicer’s relationship with the press as press secretary began in crisis. On the evening after Trump’s inauguration, he convened the press corps. What followed was a shocking and unprecedented scolding, as Spicer lashed out at the press for its supposed “shameful and wrong” coverage of the inaugural crowd. Spicer, lying, claimed before images of the crowd that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period -- both in person and around the globe.” Setting the tone for future encounters, Spicer said that he intended to “hold the press accountable” for reporting facts that the administration denied, and then he left the briefing room without taking questions, to the shock and dismay of the journalism community.

    Two days later, a more subdued Spicer appeared for his first official White House press briefing. Spicer denied that he had lied about the inaugural crowd, saying that “sometimes we can disagree with the facts,” while standing by his comments. Spicer told the same lies he had before, but because he did so in a calmer fashion, he received plaudits from reporters who no doubt hoped that the trend would improve.

    It did not. In order to defend a president who lies on a shockingly regular basis, Spicer would need to bend the truth again and again in the months to come.

    But lies alone cannot sustain an administration like this. In order to preserve the backing of its supporters, the White House would need to delegitimize any source of information that provides unfavorable facts about the administration. That strategy required regular attacks on the press from the White House briefing podium. Spicer filled that role with vigor. He attacked outlets and demeaned reporters who produced reporting damaging to the administration on a regular basis. He compared reporters to children, called one an “idiot,” and demanded another stop shaking her head in the briefing room.

    Spicer consistently harangued the media for its “negative” narrative and its “fake news” reports. When other members of the administration criticized the press as the “opposition party” or even the “enemy of the American people,” Spicer had no apparent problem standing by them. Nor did he see an issue with helping along the president’s attacks on other government entities.

    Spicer’s overzealous willingness to do anything and everything to defend the president notably caused an international incident back in March. In order to try to back up Trump’s baseless conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 presidential campaign, Spicer read a series of articles from the podium. This included a Fox analyst’s anonymously sourced claim that a British intelligence service spied on Trump on Obama’s behalf. The intelligence service denied the claim, Fox repudiated the reporting, and the administration was forced to discuss the incident with the British government. When Spicer was asked about the incident the following week, he shut down the briefing.

    Spicer was performing for an audience of one -- Trump, who regularly watched the press briefings on TV and even reportedly would send notes on his performance to the podium -- and he was willing to do anything to make the president happy. Spicer’s loyalty to the administration and his complete lack of standards or honesty in his role did little to help him.

    In May, the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey led to a communications disaster that ended with the president saying that his own spokespeople could not be trusted to convey the facts and suggesting that the administration might cancel all press briefings. Angry with his handling of the story, the president reportedly considered firing Spicer. In the months since, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, has often taken Spicer’s place at the podium, and rumors constantly swirled about possible replacements.

    On Tuesday, Spicer conducted his final briefing before news of his resignation broke -- it was his first briefing in three weeks. According to The Washington Post, his performance was “clueless,” and he seemed “out of the loop… often punting on basic questions.”

    The White House press corps should not expect things to improve with Spicer gone. Sanders has shown the same willingness to lash out at journalists, has demonstrated little interest in answering their questions or providing the slightest bit of information, has overseen the continuing de-emphasis of the briefings, and has eagerly worked with pro-Trump media outlets to undermine the rest of the press. Any political operative who comes from outside the administration to replace Spicer will know exactly what he or she is getting into and what is expected of the role, including continued attacks on the free press.

    Spicer will be gone, but the show will go on.

  • Can White House press briefings be saved?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Is the era of Trump White House daily press briefings now, for all practical purposes, over?

    On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer held an off-camera “gaggle” where all video and audio recordings were banned. It was only the latest example of an administration obsessed with secrecy and committed to embracing the opposite of transparency. (The White House held a similar “no audio” briefing last week.) That hallmark lack of transparency extends specifically to keeping journalists and voters as uninformed as possible.

    Today, White House press briefings are dying on the vine. They’re becoming increasingly scarce and unhelpful. “When Spicer and [deputy Sarah Huckabee] Sanders do take questions from journalists, they increasingly offer nonanswers,” The Washington Post noted this week.

    This trend fits a larger, disturbing strategy as the GOP-run Senate scrambles in total secrecy to pass a sprawling health care bill without holding any public hearings, without hearing from any health care experts, and without releasing the text of the bill. Reporters today have no idea what’s in the bill, simply because Republicans won’t make the contents public. (Reporters have to rely solely on Republican sources for legislative information.)

    It all constitutes a historic, incremental effort by the Trump administration to lock out the press -- and, by extension, the public -- from the government’s official duties and business.

    This was my warning just days after Trump’s November victory: Moving forward, news organizations face a stark, and possibly defining choice in terms of how they respond to any radical efforts to curb the media’s White House access."

    Today, some journalists, and specifically the large, influential news organizations they work for, deserve a healthy dose of blame for largely sleepwalking past a dangerous problem for months.

    For much of 2017, Media Matters has urged news outlets to take collective action to push back against the White House’s anti-press steamroller operation.

    This week, following the outrageous “gaggle” lock-out, CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta spoke out, suggesting “collective action” is the only option news outlets have in the face of the White House’s unprecedented attack on newsgathering:

    “It's bizarre,” said Acosta, who despite being labeled “fake news” to his face during a press conference with President Trump in February is not known for editorializing his reporting. “I don’t know what world we’re living in right now, Brooke, where we’re standing at the White House and they bring us into the briefing room here at the White House, and they won’t answer these questions on camera or let us record the audio... I don’t understand why we covered that gaggle today, quite honestly, Brooke. If they can’t give us the answers to the questions on camera or where we can record the audio, they’re basically pointless.”

    But is it now too late? The time for robust pushback was certainly back in January or February when the White House was still assembling its obstructionist strategy. The press should’ve been raising holy hell from day one. (Following yesterday’s controversy, the White House announced Spicer will be holding an on-camera briefing today.)

    Reminder: When the Obama White House tweaked an access policy in a way news organizations didn’t like, they instantly staged a “mini-revolt” by indignantly, and collectively, demanding a meeting with Democratic administration officials to fix the problem.

    Acosta's forceful and important commentary on Monday has been the exception, not the rule -- and criticism like Acosta's has not been bolstered by much tangible action from major news organizations.

    Why the media’s signature timidity? My guess is it was the dream of access journalism that prevented many in the press from doing the right thing from day one. It was the dream of access journalism that kept reporters, editors, and producers from loudly, angrily, and collectively, demanding traditional access from the Trump White House.

    Nervous about having their access cut off -- about not being called on at briefings, about being shut out of gaggles, about having no chance at landing a presidential interview -- many journalists and news organizations sat on their hands and hoped for the best. Nervous of offending a Republican president they deemed as a TV celebrity, journalists backed down. (Or worse, laughed along.)

    And leading the access brigade was the White House Correspondents’ Association. No matter how many obstacles the administration erected for the press, the group has routinely seemed to downplay them -- all while stressing the Trump team was providing access.

    But of course today the White House does not provide beloved access. It’s doing the exact opposite. The new paucity of on-camera briefings prove that point, as does the fact that when truncated briefings do occur the main objective appears to be to share as little helpful information as possible.

    Example: Three weeks ago a reporter at a briefing asked Spicer if Trump believed in climate change. Spicer said he didn’t know because he had never asked Trump. To date, Spicer still does not seem to have an answer for that very simple question.

    So yes, journalists sat on their hands while angling for access that never came. Trump hasn’t had a full-fledged press conference since February; it’s been more than a month since he sat down with a legitimate journalist to answer extended questions. And as scandal allegations mount, there’s no reason to think Trump’s personal attorney will allow him to give any in-depth interviews soon.

    While networks have gone overboard with airing almost all of Spicer's briefings, on-camera briefings -- even ones in which Spicer is his usual, evasive self -- are still better than nothing in terms of creating a video record of the administration's answers to reporters' questions on important issues.

    Nonetheless, the window to save the press briefings is closing quickly. I wish CNN and the rest of the press corps would take Acosta’s current advice (“we should walk out”), and do something.