When Sean Spicer makes a statement that later proves false, holds a briefing off camera or cuts a Q&A session short, reporters complain. Obviously. But to understand the fractured relationship between journalists and the White House press secretary, you have to look beyond a few glaring incidents.

You have to look at the subtle way that Spicer projects utter disdain for the people who cover him.

Monday’s otherwise unremarkable news briefing showcased a prime example. Six times, reporters asked variations of the same question: When will President Trump reveal whether he does or does not possess recordings of his conversations with former FBI director James B. Comey, a prospect Trump raised in a tweet last month?

Recall that the president offered a vague answer when asked about tapes during a news conference Friday. “I'll tell you about it over a very short period of time,” he said.

These were Spicer’s responses to reporters Monday:

  • “The president made clear in the Rose Garden last week that he would have an announcement shortly.”
  • “When the president’s ready to make it.”
  • “I think the president made it clear what his intention is on Friday.”
  • “He said he would answer that question in due time.”
  • “I think the president made it very clear on Friday that he would get back as soon as possible on this.”
  • “He’s not waiting for anything. When he’s ready to further discuss it, he will. But I think he laid out his position very clearly, very concisely on Friday.”

The key word, which Spicer repeated several times, is “clear.” That’s the word that really captures his attitude.

Why are you dodos asking this question? There is a very clear answer that the president clearly stated, which you should clearly know.

Journalists understand that Spicer is bound by whatever information restrictions his boss sets. If Trump doesn’t want to answer — or even say when he will answer — then his spokesman is in a difficult position.

Spicer could have given a non-answer while still earning a bit of sympathy from the press corps by acknowledging the legitimacy of the question.

Look, I know you’re all eager to find out whether there are tapes, and the president agrees that the American people have a right to know. As he said on Friday, he will provide an answer soon, but for now he has nothing to add.

Instead, Spicer replied under the ridiculous pretense that the question already had been answered satisfactorily.

To put it another way: He broke the rules of engagement between journalists and flacks, which require each side to recognize that the other has a job to do. As he often does, Spicer acted as if reporters were not doing their jobs. He acted as if they were badgering him for no reason, demanding an answer that they clearly got from the clear-speaking president last Fri-clearing-day.

The tension between Spicer and the press is not only about major clashes. It’s also about the general contempt that emanates from the briefing-room podium.