White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended Monday the administration’s combative start with the media, saying President Trump and his aides have a right to correct what they view as journalists’ mistakes and bias.
“I believe that sometimes we can disagree with the facts,” Mr. Spicer told a packed briefing room at his first question-and-answer session. “I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. Our intention is never to lie to you. But it’s a two-way street. We should be afforded the same opportunity.”
He doubled down on his assertion that Mr. Trump’s inauguration was the “most watched” in history, despite photographs showing a larger audience on the National Mall during President Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
“There were tens of millions of people that watched it online. It’s unquestionable. I don’t see any numbers that dispute that,” he said.
The press secretary also cited what he called a “racially charged” mistake by a reporter who erroneously reported Friday night that Mr. Trump had removed a bust of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office.
“There’s an attempt to go after this president,” he said. “There’s a rush to judgment every time. Where was the apology to the president of the United States? Where was the apology to millions of people who read that and thought how racially insensitive that was?
“The default narrative is always negative, and it’s demoralizing.”
The reporter, Zeke Miller of Time magazine, did apologize after correcting the report, and Mr. Spicer accepted the apology.
But the press secretary said the incident hinted at a much larger problem: that too many in the media refuse to give the president and his team any credit, a dynamic that began long before Mr. Trump’s inauguration.
“There is this constant theme to undercut the enormous support that he has,” Mr. Spicer said. “It’s just unbelievably frustrating when you’re continually told it’s not big enough, it’s not good enough, you can’t win. He’s gone out there and defied the odds over and over and over again. And he keeps getting told what he can’t do by this narrative that’s out there. And he exceeds it every single time.”
“I think there’s an overall frustration when you turn on the television over and over again and get told that there’s this narrative that you didn’t win,” Mr. Spicer said. “I think over and over again there’s this constant attempt to undermine his credibility and the movement that he represents. It’s not about one tweet. It’s not about one picture. It’s about a constant theme.”
Mr. Trump has battled the media since the start of his presidential campaign and is carrying over that combative style into the presidency. During a visit to the CIA on Saturday, he referred to journalists as “some of the most dishonest human beings on earth.”
Even the president’s visit to CIA headquarters sparked a feud over audience size with the White House, as some media outlets reported that the White House brought along a “rooting section” to the spy agency to make it appear that CIA employees were cheering for the president.
The president’s spokesman denied that report, saying Mr. Trump brought along 10 aides at most.
“I’m not sure why this matters,” he told reporters. “Ten people were not that loud.”
He was more expansive later about the “frustrations” Mr. Trump and his team feel about media coverage.
“It’s not just about a crowd size,” Mr. Spicer said. “It’s about this constant — you know, ‘He’s not going to run.’ Then if he runs, he’s going to drop out. Then if he runs, he can’t win, there’s no way he can win Pennsylvania, there’s no way he can win Michigan.”
Mr. Spicer shook up the press briefing routine of past administrations, calling on reporters by name near the back of the room and skirting some of the big television networks in the front row at the outset.
Two days after scolding the media for its perceived biased coverage of Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Mr. Spicer entered the press room with a big smile.
“I was going to start with a little recap of the inauguration, but I think we’ve covered that pretty well,” Mr. Spicer said.
He joked that he wrote a note Sunday night to Mr. Obama’s former press secretary, saying Josh Earnest’s status as the most popular press secretary was secure for at least the next few days.
Then Mr. Spicer departed from the previous press secretary’s habit of calling first on major news organizations such as The Associated Press and CNN. He came back to reporters from AP and CBS in the front row later in the session.
It was standing room only in the White House briefing room, reflecting intense interest in the new administration as well as the expectation of a showdown between journalists and Mr. Spicer.
But the press secretary’s first give-and-take session with reporters wasn’t as hostile as some journalists expected. Mr. Spicer even called on CNN’s Jim Acosta, just two weeks after Mr. Trump told the reporter dismissively “you’re fake news” at a press conference in New York. Mr. Trump had been seething over a report on CNN alleging that U.S. intelligence officials had shared reports of compromising information from Russian sources in briefings with Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama.