WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's White House spokesman vowed Monday that the new administration intends "never to lie" to the news media. Press Secretary Sean Spicer's comments came in the wake of a growing clash between the new president and the journalists assigned to cover him and his White House during the first few days of his administration.
It was a less confrontational Spicer who walked into a packed briefing room Monday and held his formal encounter that included questions.
It came two days after Spicer accused the media of deliberately misreporting the size of the crowd at Trump's inauguration Friday, including claims that were contradicted by photos and unofficial estimates.
On Monday, Spicer was asked directly if he and the administration will tell the truth.
"Yes, I believe that we have to be honest with the American people," Spicer said in response to a question from ABC's Jonathan Karl. "I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may not fully understand when we come out. But our intention is never to lie to you, Jonathan."
Dispute over crowd size
Spicer stood by the assertion that the Trump inauguration was the most viewed of all time, including those watching on television and those streaming online.
That was slightly different from his assertion Saturday when he declared that Trump's inauguration was "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe." Spicer added at the time that "these attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong."
Spicer then refused to take questions and left the podium as reporters yelled out their queries.
The dispute over crowd size was initially brought up by the president himself during a visit to CIA headquarters Saturday.
"I made a speech. I looked out and the field was, it looked like a million, a million-and-a-half people. They showed a field where there was practically nobody standing there," Trump said, referring to some of the post-inaugural television coverage.
Trump also used the occasion to blast the news media, adding that a previously well-reported spat between himself and intelligence officials was untrue.
"And the reason you are my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media,” Trump said while at CIA headquarters. “They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth. Right? And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know, the reason you're the number-one stop is exactly the opposite — exactly."
Concerns about the administration’s claims intensified Sunday when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway tried to deflect criticism on NBC's Meet the Press, challenging host Chuck Todd.
"You're saying it's a falsehood and they're giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, [who] gave alternative facts to that," Conway said.
Her reference to "alternative facts" sparked debate and sarcasm on social media.
Even some conservatives are expressing alarm at the growing tensions between the administration and the press, including political analyst Michael Barone at the American Enterprise Institute.
"I think many people in the press think Trump is a dangerous and potentially dictatorial character,” he said. “I think those fears are overwrought, but I think there are things to be concerned about there, as well."
Barone was a recent guest on VOA's “Press Conference USA” program.
Trump's loyal base
Trump supporters have long been suspicious of the mainstream media, which is one reason the president continues to rely on Twitter, said political analyst Larry Sabato via Skype.
"As always, as we learned during the campaign, Trump's followers will believe absolutely anything he says,” Sabato said. “And if they don't, they simply don't care."
During last year's presidential campaign, Trump made effective use of social media and drew on his previous experience as a TV show reality host.
"He understands media and he has been able to tell his stories the way he wants to in an unmediated, media way. So I think that's important," said James Glassman, a former journalist and founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute in Texas. Glassman spoke at a recent Brookings Institution event on covering news in a "post-truth" media climate.
Spicer acknowledged Monday that there is lingering resentment among Trump supporters over coverage of last year's presidential campaign.
"I think over and over again, there is this constant attempt to undermine [Trump’s] credibility and the movement that he represents,” Spicer said. “And it's frustrating."
Spicer's less confrontational tone Monday and his vow to be truthful could defuse some of the tension stemming from what has been a rocky start in the relationship between the 45th president and the news media.