The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

One answer in Sean Spicer’s briefing sums up the White House’s credibility problem

When new employment figures were released Friday, they looked pretty good for President Trump. About 235,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in February, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while it's hard to say how many of those new jobs are attributable to Trump's policies, there's no question it's a positive bit of PR for his administration.

But during the election campaign, Trump dismissed those same statistics as “phony,” saying in February 2016: “Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”

So which is it — are they phony numbers or are they real? And is the unemployment rate — listed at 4.7 percent in Friday's report — really over 40 percent? (Hint: The jobs report is real, as are the statistics it presents.)

White House press secretary Sean Spicer had an answer ready for that question. And he couldn't deliver it without laughing.

"I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly, 'They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now,'" Spicer said. (Video: Reuters)

Reporters laughed, too. It was perhaps a tacit admission from Spicer that Trump's campaign trail rhetoric was just that, language used to rile up supporters and bash President Barack Obama.

But it also summed up a problem Spicer faces pretty regularly: a credibility gap with reporters. His credibility has been strained since Day One on the job, when he presented “alternative facts” about the size of the crowd at his boss's inauguration (a term coined by his co-worker Kellyanne Conway).

The president regularly labels information he doesn't like as “fake” or “phony,” but he seems willing to change his mind quickly when that information suddenly looks good for him. And that's why the whole room erupted in laughter Friday when Spicer told reporters that the jobs report “may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.”