Outright Lies, Constant Tweets & “Alternative Facts.”
We turn now to look at President Trump, the media and what the new administration calls “alternative facts.” On Saturday, in his first full day in office, Trump visited CIA headquarters. Speaking in front of the CIA Memorial Wall, he told the agency he had a running war with the media. Hours later, Trump then ordered his new press secretary, Sean Spicer, to hold an emergency press briefing to claim, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” Then, on Sunday, Trump’s adviser, Kellyanne Conway, defended Spicer’s demonstrably false statement by saying he “gave alternative facts.” We speak to filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, director of “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press,” and Mark Hertsgaard, investigative editor at The Nation magazine and author of seven books, including “On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to look at President Trump, the media and what the new administration calls alternative facts. On Saturday, in his first full day in office, Trump visited CIA headquarters. Speaking of front of the CIA’s Memorial Wall, he told the agency he had a running war with the media.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So I can only say that I am with you a thousand percent. And the reason you’re my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth. 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 number one stop is exactly the opposite. Exactly. And they understand that, too.
AMY GOODMAN: That was just the beginning of the new administration’s attack on the press. According to The Washington Post, after Trump returned from the CIA, he turned on the television to see hundreds of thousands of protesters taking part in the Women’s March on Washington, and images showing large patches of white empty space on the Mall during his inauguration. Many outlets were broadcasting images showing how the size of his inauguration was far smaller than Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. Despite objections from his advisers, Trump then ordered his new press secretary, Sean Spicer, to walk out into the White House press room and read an emergency press statement.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe. Even The New York Times printed a photograph showing the—that—a misrepresentation of the crowd in the original tweet in their paper, which showed the full extent of the support, depth and crowd and intensity that existed. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong. … The president is committed to unifying our country, and that was the focus of his inaugural address. This kind of dishonesty in the media, the challenging—the bringing about our nation together is making it more difficult. There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable. And I’m here to tell you that it goes two ways. We’re going to hold the press accountable, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. He left the stage before taking any questions Saturday afternoon. Then, on Sunday, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd confronted counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway about Spicer’s lies.
KELLYANNE CONWAY: Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What it—you’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving—Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point remains—
CHUCK TODD: Wait a minute. Alternative facts?
KELLYANNE CONWAY: —that there’s—
CHUCK TODD: Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered—the one thing he got right—
KELLYANNE CONWAY: Hey, Chuck, why—hey, Chuck—
CHUCK TODD: —was Zeke Miller. Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.
AMY GOODMAN: Then, on Monday, Sean Spicer held his first official press briefing, where he was grilled about his comments from Saturday. Spicer claimed, quote, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”
JONATHAN KARL: Before I get to a policy question, just a question about the nature of your job.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: Yeah.
JONATHAN KARL: Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium? And will you pledge never to knowingly say something that is not factual?
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: It is. It’s an honor to do this. And, yes, I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may miss—we may not fully understand when we come out. But our intention is never to lie to you, Jonathan. Our job is to make sure that sometimes—and you’re in the same boat. I mean, there are times when you guys tweet something out or write a story, and you publish a correction. That doesn’t mean that you were intentionally trying to deceive readers and the American people, does it? And I think we should be afforded the same opportunity.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about President Trump and the media, we are joined by two guests. Here in Park City, Brian Knappenberger is with us, director of a new documentary premiering here at Sundance this afternoon called Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press. And in New York, Mark Hertsgaard is with us, investigative editor at The Nation magazine, author of seven books, including On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency.
So, Brian, let’s begin with you.
BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened this weekend? You’ve got this raging press secretary—
BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —who storms out into the press room. They say that he’s going to hold a press briefing. They wait for an hour—a press conference.
BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And he just makes these series of lies—
BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —says it was the largest inauguration, not only in U.S. history, but in the world.
BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Right. It’s extraordinary. I mean, it’s extraordinary even listening to the clips you just played, I mean, and remembering we’re on day three here of this Trump administration. But really what we’re seeing is an extension of what we’ve been seeing—what we’ve seen from the last year from candidate Trump. I mean, his rise was really a result of an all-out assault on the press. I mean, it was one thing after another. He would berate the press. He called them names, “scum.” He said he was going to open up libel laws and “sue you like you’ve never been sued before.” He would go around the press. He would attack even things like satire, things like Saturday Night Live, or the cast of Hamilton or something. I mean, anything that threatened him or anything that approached an adversarial question at all, he would just go crazy with. So I think we’re in a period where this is something we really have to worry about. We just don’t know what this guy will be capable of doing with the executive branch at his control.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hertsgaard, your first impressions of the President Trump presidency dealing with the press?
MARK HERTSGAARD: You heard Mr. Trump himself say it: He is in a war with the press, and it has been long-standing. You know, there’s an old saying in media circles, though: “It’s never wise for an elected official to pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Now, that’s a reference to a hundred years ago, when it was newspapers that dominated the press, but I think that Donald Trump is going down a very dangerous road here.
I think what’s interesting, having written a book about the White House press corps and how, in general, the White House press corps wants to get along with any president, whatever the party, they want to have access to White House officials. They like to do that inside-baseball kind of coverage. I think that what might be happening here, though, is that Donald Trump and his administration—Sean Spicer, the press secretary—may end up provoking the Washington press corps, and the mainstream media, in general, into becoming an adversarial press, which is not what they want to do, the media. It is what the Constitution and American civics calls on the media to do, to hold presidents and elected officials accountable by being adversarial, by asking tough questions. In general, that’s not the way the Washington press corps operates. And yet, I think when—they now have a choice. Trump is so aggressive against them, and Spicer, as well, that the Washington press corps is either going to respond back and be adversarial or they’re just going to take it. And I think that that’s probably not going to end well for either party, and certainly not for the White House. I think they’re going down a dangerous road that they’re going to regret.
But the problem is, they’ve got a president who has a habit of telling falsehoods and has a very thin skin. You mentioned, Amy, that he ordered Sean Spicer to go out there and give that statement on Saturday, with knowable, easily demonstrable falsehoods. You know, that plays to his political base, the one out of three Americans who are going to stick with Donald Trump no matter what. I don’t think it’s going to play to that middle one-third of Americans, some of whom voted for him in November.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Monday’s press conference with the press secretary, Sean Spicer. I want to go to this clip right now of Sean Spicer. He talked at the end of the news conference about how demoralizing it was for the press to be critical of the president. Let’s see if we can get that clip.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: I think, over and over again, there’s this constant attempt to undermine his credibility and the movement that he represents. And it’s frustrating for not just him, but I think so many of us that are trying to work to get this message out. And it’s—and so, I mentioned this to Jonathan, but part of this is a two-way street. Like, we want to—we want to have a healthy dialogue, not just with you, but with the American people, because he’s fighting for jobs, he’s fighting to make this country safer. But when you’re constantly getting told, “That can’t be true,” “We doubt that you can do this,” “This won’t happen,” and that’s the narrative when you turn on television every single day, it’s a little frustrating.
AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have Sean Spicer, that it’s demoralizing when the press is critical, Brian.
BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: It’s demoralizing when the press is critical. What a comical statement, almost. What’s the purpose of a free and independent press? It is to be critical. It’s to speak truth to power. I think they got to get over it and understand that they’re in the—you know, they’re in the business of running the country now, and focus on what they need to be doing, and understand that this is critical to the way things work.
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