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2017-01-24 01:07:09
Sean Spicer, Trump’s Press Secretary, Reboots His Relationship With the Press

WASHINGTON — The Trump White House sent a message to the media on Monday: Be nice.

At his first formal briefing on Monday, Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, told reporters here that his administration sometimes does “the right thing,” adding: “And it would be nice, once in a while, for someone just to report it straight up.”

It was an oddly plaintive appeal from an administration that tends to attack the press, not bemoan it. And it was a sharp contrast from Mr. Spicer’s appearance 48 hours prior, when he blasted the news media as “shameful,” made false claims about the attendance for Mr. Trump’s inaugural and prompted speculation that his relationship with the White House press corps had been irreparably damaged after a single day.

Those fears, at least, Mr. Spicer seemed to put to rest on Monday during a 90-minute briefing in which he was by turns calm, feisty and bantering, yet far from the hothead who appeared behind the lectern this weekend. He won praise from veteran press secretaries from both parties and some grudging acknowledgments from reporters that he had eased some of the tensions he prompted with his easily debunked assertions on Saturday.

“I want to make sure that we have a healthy relationship,” he told reporters, pledging “to be honest with the American people.”

Still, Mr. Spicer added: “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

Mr. Spicer’s recitation of grievances — “the default narrative is always negative,” he told reporters, “and it’s demoralizing” — reinforced his deeply held view of a press that was unfairly skeptical of the president.

“Over and over again, there’s this constant attempt to undermine his credibility,” Mr. Spicer said of Mr. Trump. “And it’s frustrating for not just him, but I think so many of us that are trying to work to get this message out.”

It was a glimpse into the core beliefs of a newly installed administration, and it also furthered Mr. Trump’s monthslong efforts to undermine the credibility of traditional media.

It was also an unusually public airing of grievances with the media by a press secretary. Every president has griped about his coverage. Mr. Trump, of course, expresses his dismay more publicly than most. Mr. Spicer made it clear that he would take his cues from his boss, rather than the usual press secretary’s approach of litigating disputes with journalists in private.

The lingering resentment from Saturday’s episode was evident in a blunt question from Jonathan Karl of ABC News. “Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium?” Mr. Karl asked.

“It is,” Mr. Spicer replied.

In an ensuing exchange with Mr. Karl, the press secretary carved some wiggle room for himself on the question of whether he had lied to reporters when he declared the audience for Mr. Trump’s inauguration the biggest, “period.” Photographs showed a far larger turnout at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 than at Mr. Trump’s.

Mr. Spicer said that his estimate of the inaugural audience included viewers from around the world who watched online.

Seeking to turn the question of credibility back on the press, Mr. Spicer seized again on an erroneous report by a Time magazine reporter — which was quickly corrected — that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office. Mr. Spicer suggested that the news media was equally guilty for disseminating falsehoods, although he ignored Mr. Karl when the correspondent pointed out that Mr. Spicer had accepted the Time reporter’s apology on Twitter.

Mr. Spicer, a former communications director and strategist for the Republican National Committee, has pledged to shake up the status quo in the White House briefing room, a cramped space with 49 seats and its own arcane rituals and protocols. He used his first press briefing to lay down a few rules.

The first question went to a reporter from The New York Post, followed by the Christian Broadcasting Network, Univision, Fox Business Network and American Urban Radio Networks. Reporters from the big newspapers and broadcast networks, who typically get first crack at a press secretary, had to wait.

Mr. Spicer announced that he would provide access via Skype to journalists working for news organizations “who may not have the convenience or funding to travel to Washington.” He has previously pledged to find space for talk-radio hosts and conservative bloggers.

And there were a few jolting reminders that this White House was quite different from the last — like when Omarosa Manigault, the “Apprentice” contestant turned presidential aide, poked her head out of the press office to give reporters the traditional two-minute warning.

Mr. Spicer appeared far more comfortable at the lectern on Monday. And even his political opponents conceded that, professionally speaking, he had done well.

“Score one for Spicer,” wrote Howard Wolfson, a former press secretary to Hillary Clinton. “A big turnaround from the weekend.” Another Clinton aide, Nick Merrill, wrote on Twitter: “I hate to say this, but @seanspicer is holding his own.”

Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for George W. Bush, said that Mr. Spicer’s complaints about “demoralizing” news coverage were, in his view, a potent argument.

“I saluted Sean at that point,” Mr. Fleischer said in an interview. “This is a longstanding and, in my view, legitimate complaint about the coverage,” referring to what he called an anti-Republican bias in the mainstream press.

“Saturday, the ball was dropped,” he added, “and on Monday, Sean recovered the ball and scored.”