White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in his first full day on the job, made a couple of easily disproved claims about the size of President Trump's inauguration crowd, as The Fix's Philip Bump and Chris Cillizza noted on Saturday. And they weren't the only ones.
A sampling of the reaction:
Spicer way off on Metro ridership.
Spicer: 420k Trump / 317k Obama '13.
Reality: 571k Trump / 782k Obama '13. https://t.co/eHao7dkCg0
— Steven Ginsberg (@stevenjay) January 21, 2017
The purpose of sending Sean out there? Because Spicer now owns the inaccurate facts being peddled by Trump earlier about the crowds.
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) January 22, 2017
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) January 22, 2017
Fortuitously, conservative writer David Frum had offered this piece of advice to Spicer just three days before:
The smart press secretary will remember: he is rationed one lie per career. Use it wisely @seanspicer
— David Frum (@davidfrum) January 18, 2017
But this isn't the first time Spicer has been caught saying something that is quickly disproved — just the first time as White House press secretary. About a month before the election, in fact, he falsely claimed to me he didn't say something that we later found out was on tape.
It was shortly after the “Access Hollywood” video was released — the one in which Trump infamously says “grab 'em by the p---y.” At the time, Spicer was the lead spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
John McCormack, a writer for the conservative Weekly Standard, reported that he had asked Spicer in a post-debate spin room whether that kind of talk described sexual assault, and Spicer responded, “I don't know. I'm not a lawyer.”
I asked Spicer to confirm that he had said what McCormack quoted him as saying, and he flatly denied it. “I never said it,” he emailed me. He also provided audio to substantiate his claim. The audio, which was a partial recording of his time in the spin room — about nine minutes' worth — included no similar quote.
I went back to McCormack, who said not only that he stood by the quote but also that he had audio of it. He provided the audio to me, and it was of a man who sounded exactly like Spicer saying, “I don't know. I'm not a lawyer.”
I went back to Spicer again and told him I had the proof, and he gave me this statement: “While I was asked question about a matter of law, it is never appropriate to touch anyone in an unwelcome manner.”
I asked him to clarify whether he still denied that he said it, and he responded that it was “not on any of the audio we have as you heard.” I asked him again, and he gave no response.
If I'm being extremely charitable to Spicer, it's possible he forgot he said the words quoted by McCormack. But his denial came a day after saying it — not weeks later.
What's more, his denial was complete and left no wiggle room. It wasn't that he didn't think he said it; it was “I never said it.” And it was false.
He also made this claim about something he had said in a spin room where many people were carrying voice recorders, making it rather easy to disprove. He still made it.
As reporters, we suspect that the people we talk to might not give us the whole truth. Plausible deniability is big in this business, as is wiggle room. But it's rare that you catch a politician or spokesman deciding to say something so clear that turns out to be so easily disproved.
And now a similar situation has cropped up on Spicer's very first full day as the top spokesman for the president.