White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says he believes White House officials "have to be honest with the American people"

By Tierney McAfee
Updated January 23, 2017 07:01 PM
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Two days after making false statements about the attendance and audience for President Donald Trump’s inauguration, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer vowed to always “be honest with the American people” — but added that “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

Asked in his first official press briefing on Monday if it was his “intention to always tell the truth from that podium,” Spicer told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, “It is. It’s an honor to do this and yes, I believe that we have to be honest with the American people.”

But, Spicer added, “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may not fully understand when we come out but our intention is never to lie to you … and you’re in the same boat. 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 or the American people, does it? And I think we should be afforded the same opportunity.”

Asked whether he wished to amend his Saturday statement saying that Trump’s inauguration had “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe,” Spicer instead doubled down on his comments.

“Sure, it was the most watched inaugural … It’s unquestionable,” Spicer said, clarifying that his definition of a viewing audience included not just people standing on the National Mall or watching on television but also audiences who watched the inauguration online and through streaming services — audience numbers that have not yet been publicly confirmed, according to ABC News.

When pressed on whether Trump’s inauguration had a larger audience than those at former President Ronald Reagan’s inaugurations, Spicer said, “I’m pretty sure that Reagan didn’t have YouTube, Facebook or the Internet.”

Politico noted that “calculating the overall global viewership for Trump’s inauguration would be nearly impossible, but in the U.S., it was viewed by 30.6 million Americans. That would put Trump’s inaugural ceremony behind that of former Presidents Ronald Reagan (41.8 million viewers in 1981), Obama (37.7 million in 2009), Jimmy Carter (34.1 million in 1977) and Richard Nixon (33 million in 1973). The Nielsen numbers do not include viewers who watched on online livestreams.”

Analysis of news footage and aerial photos appeared to indicate that far fewer people attended Trump’s inauguration than did the 2009 inauguration of former President Barack Obama, The New York Times, Politico and other outlets reported.

The inauguration crowd figures aside, CNN reported that Spicer’s statement on Saturday included several misstatements of fact, including his claim that “this is the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass on the Mall.” Spicer claimed that this “had the effect of highlighting areas people were not standing whereas in years past the grass eliminated this visual.”

But the coverings were in fact used for Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.

Spicer also claimed that Trump’s inauguration was “the first time that fencing and magnetometers went as far back on the Mall, preventing hundreds of thousands of people from being able to access the Mall as quickly as they had in inaugurations past.”

But a United States Secret Service spokesperson told CNN that no magnetometers were used on the Mall.

After many in the media accused Spicer of making false claims about the inauguration crowd size, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended him, saying he was giving “alternative facts.”

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On Saturday, Spicer appeared in the White House briefing room and read a statement attacking “some members of the media” for what he called their “deliberately false reporting” of Trump’s inauguration attendance figures. He did not take any questions after making the statement, a move he defended on Monday by saying, “Look — I came out to read a statement. I did it. We’re here today. I’m going to stay as long as you want.”

The backlash over his Saturday comments was not lost on Spicer, however, who opened Monday’s press conference with something of a peace offering to West Wing journalists.

“I know that Josh Earnest was voted the most popular press secretary by the Press Corps. So after reading — checking my Twitter feed, I shot Josh an email last night letting him know that he can rest easy that his title is secure for at least the next few days,” Spicer joked.