On Saturday night, White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivered his first press conference in the James S. Brady press briefing room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Except that he used the occasion to yell at the press and take no questions from them.
It was the most inauspicious of beginnings to what was already a deeply fraught relationship between the administration of Donald Trump and the journalists assigned to cover him. And it was a telling sign of just how much Spicer — and the rest of the White House staff — will be required to publicly address perceived grudges and slights against the sitting president of the United States.
“Some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting,” Spicer insisted at the start of the briefing, citing a pool report that said a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the White House. (The pool report was corrected relatively quickly; the reporter in question — Time’s Zeke Miller — explained that a Secret Service officer had obstructed his view of the bust in the Oval Office.)
Then Spicer moved to the real reason for the press scolding: the reporting on the size of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration ceremony on Friday. “Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall,” Spicer argued.
He then offered a series of explanations for the crowd size — each of which was incorrect:
1. This was the first time in history white plastic had been laid on the Mall to protect the grass. Nope!
2. This was the first time magnetometers had been used in the inauguration proceedings. Nope!
3. More people had used the Metro — D.C.’s subway — at the Trump inauguration than had used it for President Barack Obama’s second inaugural. Nope!
But Spicer wasn’t done! He went on to note that “no one had numbers” about the crowd size just before offering up a detailed assessment of just how many people can fit into each section of the Mall and, therefore, why there were far more people in attendance than the media reported.
After haranguing reporters for five minutes, Spicer stopped. But rather than let the media ask questions — that’s the point of the job, after all — he just left.
It’s hard not to see the hand of the 45th president actively guiding Spicer in all of this. Trump is obsessed with ratings, standings, polls — numbers that make clear he is the best and biggest at everything. Spicer then was put in an impossible position, caught between a president demanding he be defended and a press corps demanding answers where none were available.
If this first 96 hours are a sign of things to come, Spicer — and the White House press corps — are going to have a very long couple of years.
Sean Spicer, for holding a press conference without involving the press, you had the Worst Week in Washington Congrats, or something.
Chris Cillizza is a Washington Post columnist.