The feud between the Trump White House and CNN reached a fever pitch Tuesday during a feisty press briefing where Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed “fake news” and said Americans “deserve something better.”
Sanders conducted the first televised briefing in a week, following complaints from the press corps that too many are being held off-camera. She took the podium in place of Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who was on Capitol Hill for a GOP Senate luncheon.
Breitbart News’ Charlie Spiering asked the first question, challenging Sanders on why CNN’s retraction of a recent story was not sufficient enough for the president, who on Tuesday took to Twitter and said: “Wow, CNN had to retract big story on “Russia,” with 3 employees forced to resign. What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!”
CNN had retracted a story linking a Trump adviser to a Russian investment fund. Three journalists involved in the story’s publication have since resigned and CNN issued an apology to the Trump adviser.
“I don’t know if that response is good enough,” Sanders said Tuesday. “It’s the barrage of fake news directed at the president that has garnered his frustration. ... We have gone to a place where if the media can’t be trusted to report the news, then that’s a dangerous place for America.”
Sanders went on to reference an undercover video allegedly showing a CNN producer knocking the network's Russia-Trump coverage.
“There are multiple instances when that outlet has been wrong—there’s a video circulating now, whether it's accurate or not, not sure—but I encourage everyone to take a look at it,” she said. “If it is accurate, I think it’s a disgrace to all of media, to all of journalism.”
Sanders added that the media has been “going on [the] Russia, Trump-hoax for the better part of a year now,” and that “America is looking for something more.”
But Spiering pushed back, asking if the president expects the media “not to report on stories of a foreign country trying to influence the election?”
“I don’t think it’s expected you’re not to report on actual news, but I think there are a lot of things happening in the world that people would like to hear about—job growth, deregulation—those things deserve more coverage,” Sanders said. “I think we should take a good look at what we are focused on and making sure it’s accurate.”
Sanders added, “If we make the slightest mistake, it is an absolute tirade from a lot of people in this room, but news outlets get to go on, day after day, and cite unnamed sources, and use stories without sources.”
Brian J. Karem, executive editor of The Montgomery County Sentinel, a local newspaper in Maryland, then accused Sanders of being “inflammatory.”
“You’re inflaming everyone here,” Karem said. “We’re here to ask questions, you’re here to provide answers—what you did is inflammatory—everybody in this room is just trying to do their job.”
Sanders fired back and said that the problem is “the dishonesty that often takes place in the news media.”
“It is outrageous to accuse me of inflaming a story when I was trying to answer a question,” Sanders added.
Sanders did not take questions from a CNN reporter at the end of the briefing.
The briefing came just a day after president of the White House Correspondents Association, Jeff Mason, also a Reuters correspondent, met with Spicer and Sanders to discuss the issue of White House press briefings.
“The WHCA’s position on this issue is clear: we believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials face questions form an independent news media, in keeping with principles of the First Amendment and the need for transparency at the highest levels of government,” Mason wrote in a letter to his fellow White House correspondents.
Mason urged the White House not to replace on-camera briefings with gaggles, or “not-for-broadcast” question-and-answer sessions.
“Though they are useful and can play an important role in informing the press and the public, gaggles are not a substitute for the open back-and-forth between reporters and administration officials that regular televised briefings allow.”
Changes are also in the works for the White House communications team.
The Trump administration confirmed to Fox News last week that Spicer would be taking on an expanded role, overseeing both White House communications and press offices, and would not run every on-camera press briefing.