Sean Spicer Says It’s Unfair To Say Trump Has Demonized The Press -- But If He Did, They Deserved It

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has said he is in a “running war with the media,” which he described as “very, very dishonest.” His chief of staff promised to “fight back” against the media for trying to “delegitimize this president.” His chief strategist called the press “the opposition party” and said it “should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” At least two of his top aides have suggested that journalists should have been fired for their reporting during the campaign.

“This kind of speech not only undermines the work of the media in this country, it emboldens autocratic leaders around the world," said Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "These leaders -- like Putin in Russia and Erdogan in Turkey -- have consolidated power by marginalizing independent media. We can't allow that to happen in the United States.”

It was in that context that White House press secretary Sean Spicer sat down with former CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno before an audience at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs to discuss the administration’s contentious relationship with the press.

Over the course of 40 combative minutes, Spicer frequently lashed out at reporters, both by name and as a group. But the most concerning exchange came when Sesno highlighted the Trump administration's attacks on the press and Simon’s warning, and asked, “Will you make a commitment, now and here, that as White House press secretary and communications director, you will not be party to efforts to marginalize, and I’ll add the word demonize, independent media?”

In his response, in turn shifty and aggressive, Spicer never said “no.”

Instead, Spicer rejected the premise, demanding, “Give me an example of what we have done to bring up the question.”

After Sesno noted that he had just cited Simon’s comments, Spicer sneered at the “nice fluffy statement” and asked for “one example of how we’ve done that.” Sesno explained that when Trump attacks the honesty of the press before an audience of CIA officers, “that undermines faith and confidence … in the institution of the media.”

At this point, having repeatedly denied that the administration had demonized the press only to be confronted with evidence it had done so, Spicer suggested that the journalists had it coming.

“At some point, though, there is an obligation in the media to get the facts right,” Spicer said. Sesno agreed but noted that criticizing inaccurate reports isn’t the same as “an ongoing running attack on the media as an institution.”

Spicer replied by again complaining that journalists “consistently get things wrong” and lying about the membership of the president’s National Security Council Principals Committee. “At some point,” he added, “I think there is a bit of reflection that the media needs to do to figure out if they are getting basic facts right.”

During the same interview, Spicer defended his lies about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd, lashed out at CNN’s Jim Acosta, and warned that the press is “not the only game in town anymore.”

The White House press secretary has lied to the press. He has tried to gaslight them. And now he refuses to say that he won’t participate in an effort to demonize the press. In Trump’s war on the media, Spicer has no intention of being a conscientious objector.