by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
On Saturday, Trump press secretary Sean Spicer created a media firestorm by fibbing about sizes of inauguration crowds. After calling a press conference to claim that Trump’s inauguration had the largest audience in history, both “in person and around the globe,” Spicer tore into the media for their supposed falsehoods; Spicer specifically referenced D.C. Metro figures, fencing and magnetometer placement, and floor coverings that highlighted empty spaces on the National Mall. None of his claims were true.
NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Trump top adviser Kellyanne Conway about Spicer’s routine. “I’m curious,” he said, “why President Trump chose yesterday to send out his press secretary to essentially litigate a provable falsehood when it comes to a small and petty thing like inaugural crowd size. I guess my question to you is, Why do that?” Conway futzed about for an answer, variously misdirecting to the press’s willingness to ignore President Obama’s widespread lies, Trump’s executive actions, and a New York Times reporter’s quickly retracted tweet about a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. being removed from the Oval Office.
Todd’s question is the right one: What would drive President Trump to spend mental energy on a question as silly and meaningless as inaugural crowd size? …
… But Todd’s question wasn’t that of the media at large. Their question quickly turned from one of presidential focus and temperament to a far more self-centered one: Why would Trump send out his press secretary to lie to them? Why would Trump want to establish such an adversarial relationship with the press? Why would Spicer attack the media?
That personal umbrage from the media drove the coverage throughout the weekend. On CNN with Brian Stelter, former Hillary Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon called Spicer’s comments “an affront to anybody who is on our side of the wall and works in this business.” CBS’s Major Garrett complained, “I’ve never seen anything like this, where it was so intense, so harsh and passionate right off the beginning.”
This is why Trump wins every time he attacks the media: because the media are so consumed with themselves, they don’t seem to care about the public interest. When Spicer returned to the podium on Monday, he gave the first question to the New York Post rather than the Associated Press. This sent the collective media into spasms of apoplexy — how dare Spicer violate protocol this way? Why did he give questions to the Christian Broadcasting Network before CNN?
Then, finally, when the more Trump-unfriendly press did get a shot at Spicer, they made the entire crowd-size debacle into a firefight over media relations.