The first White House press conference of the Trump administration was supposed to happen on Monday. But on Saturday afternoon, after a little more than 24 hours in office, the administration called an impromptu press briefing — for the purpose of yelling at the press.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, visibly agitated, gave a statement that made the following claims:
- Spicer called Zeke Miller of Time magazine (whom Spicer identified as “one reporter,” but whom President Trump called out by name earlier today in a speech to the CIA) “irresponsible and reckless” for reporting erroneously that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office. Spicer strongly implied that Miller had lied about why he hadn’t seen the bust, saying Miller “tried to claim” the bust had been blocked by a Secret Service agent.
- Spicer accused media images of being “intentionally framed” to make the crowd at President Trump’s inauguration look smaller than it actually was (in part by arguing this was the first time ground coverings had been used on the Mall, which wasn’t true).
- Spicer claimed that it would be irresponsible to cite any estimates of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration (or of Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington) because the National Park Service, as a rule, doesn’t release official estimates of crowd sizes.
- Spicer then claimed that President Trump drew the “largest audience to witness an inauguration period, both in person and around the world.” He did not offer any evidence for this claim, nor did he square it with the idea that it was impossible to estimate crowd size.
- Spicer gave a glowing report of the president’s speech to CIA staff Saturday, then cried, “That’s what you guys should be” covering.
- Spicer warned that while journalists talk about holding the president accountable, “I’m gonna tell you that it goes two ways. We’re gonna hold the press accountable as well.”
Spicer also delivered quick reviews of Trump’s schedule for over the weekend, but since this wasn’t a prescheduled press briefing it clearly wasn’t the point. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Trump administration believes the most important thing that happened in its first day in office — something so important that it was worth calling an unscheduled, weekend press briefing — was snapping at the press, and attempting to replace relatively well-documented estimates of the relatively paltry attendance at Friday’s inauguration with a wholly undocumented claim that this was the biggest inauguration ever.
Defenders of Donald Trump’s candidacy and his presidential transition have often dismissed the more capricious and unpresidential aspects of his personality — his thin-skinnedness; his grudge holding; his obsession with media coverage, popularity, and ratings — as things that wouldn’t affect his administration. Either they’ve argued that the Donald Trump America has seen so far is an act that would be dropped once he assumed the burden of leading the federal government or they’ve hinted that Trump would be a figurehead who kept doing his thing while the “real” work of government went on around him.
Saturday’s press conference put a stake through both of those rationalizations. Donald Trump didn’t appear in that briefing room; Sean Spicer and the rest of the White House communications staff bore his message forward on his behalf. Trump’s staff will represent Trump, not cage him.
Donald Trump is not becoming more presidential. The presidency, and the administration, is becoming more Trump-like.