White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held his first formal press briefing on Monday afternoon after a confrontation with reporters this weekend led to him being lambasted across social media.
Monday’s briefing followed an incident on Saturday in which Spicer went on an angry tirade from behind the White House podium, issuing several false statements about the size of the audience at President Donald Trump’s swearing-in ceremony. The episode raised concerns that Spicer had lost credibility among members of the White House press corps.
Trump, on his first full day as president, told a crowd at CIA headquarters that he was involved in a “running war” with the media.
Spicer on Monday said that his intention was to never lie. Seeking to reset his relationship with the press corps, he kicked off the briefing with a self-deprecating joke: Spicer said he had emailed Josh Earnest, President Obama’s former press secretary, to tell him that his reign as the “most popular” person to hold the position was safe for the time being.
Spicer insisted that “sometimes we can disagree with the facts but our intention is never to lie.”
That comment followed a widely ridiculed appearance by Trump senior counsel Kellyanne Conway on MSNBC, in which she claimed Spicer was merely presenting “alternative facts” to counter low-balled crowd estimates at the inauguration.
In regards to the crowd, Spicer had claimed: “That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.” He said this immediately after claiming there was no way to judge the crowd, noting that the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, no longer provides crowd estimates.
Spicer’s claim that Trump’s crowd was the “largest” was quickly disproved with the help of robust evidence, including satellite images and others photographs that showed Friday’s attendance easily dwarfed by the audience at President Obama’s 2009 inaugural ceremony.
“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,” Spicer said. “But our desire to communicate with the American people and make sure you have the most complete story at the time—so we do it.”