It's not a good sign for a spokesman when this is one of the top questions at a news conference: “Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium, and will you pledge never to knowingly say something that is not factual?”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer had to defend his credibility Monday after making provably false statements over the weekend about the size of President Trump's Inauguration Day crowd. Spicer's bogus public-transit data and blatantly wrong assertion that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration” were so insulting to reporters' intelligence that ABC's Jonathan Karl confronted him with the above question.
This was Spicer's response:
It is. It's an honor to do this, and yes, I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may miss — we may not fully understand when we come out, but our intention is never to lie to you, Jonathan.
Our job is to make sure that sometimes — and you're in the same boat. I mean, there are times when you guys tweet something out or write a story, and you publish a correction. That doesn't mean that you were intentionally trying to deceive readers and the American people, does it? And I think we should be afforded the same opportunity.
There are times when we believe something to be true or we get something from an agency or we act in haste because the information available wasn't complete, but our desire [is] to communicate with the American people and make sure that you have the most complete story at the time, and so we do it. But, again, I think that when you look, net-net, we're going to do our best every time we can. I'm going to come out here and tell you the facts, as I know them, and if we make a mistake, we'll do our best to correct it.
But I don't, I think that it's a — as I mentioned the other day, it is a two-way street. There are many mistakes that the media makes all the time. They misreport something. They don't report something. They get a fact wrong. I don't think that's always a — you know, to turn around and say you are intentionally lying. I think we all go try to do our best job and do it with a degree of integrity in our respective industries.
That wasn't exactly a mea culpa, and Spicer's pledge to present the facts “as I know them” leaves a lot of room for him to plead ignorance in the future. Plus, his statement that “sometimes we can disagree with the facts” is a head-scratcher. The inaugural crowd size was what it was; there is no room for disagreement. It sounded a bit like Spicer was doubling down on Kellyanne Conway's “alternative facts.”
Perhaps the most interesting piece of Spicer's response, however, was his concession that when journalists make mistakes, “that doesn't mean that [they] were intentionally trying to deceive readers and the American people.” That's a measure of grace that Trump seldom, if ever, affords reporters, whom he calls “dishonest” and the “lowest form of life.”