When the White House chose to hold its press briefing off-camera on Monday, it sparked more criticism from reporters like CNN’s Jim Acosta. So the Tuesday briefing was held on-camera, overseen by Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders — but it wasn’t any less contentious. At one point, Sanders got into a heated back-and-forth with reporter Brian Karem about the Trump administration’s attitude towards the media.
The context to this flare-up is what happened in between the two briefings. On Monday night, three CNN journalists resigned after the network was forced to retract a story it had done about possible ties between Trump advisor Anthony Scaramucci and a Russian investment fund, which turned out to be false. President Donald Trump took the opportunity to once more mock CNN on Twitter for being “fake news” and suggested that rival networks like NBC, CBS, and ABC were just as fraudulent.
When asked about Trump’s tweets at the briefing, Sanders replied that media should cover more subjects than just Trump’s Russia scandal. She noted that many such stories (including CNN’s retracted Scaramucci piece) rely on anonymous sources. This has indeed proved a difficulty for journalists covering the Trump administration’s Russia scandal; as The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald pointed out, CNN is far from the first news outlet to retract or correct an anonymous story about Trump and Russia in recent months.
“I think there are a lot of things happening in this world that people would like to hear about, whether it’s deregulation, tax reform, health care,” Sanders said. “I think a lot of those things deserve a lot more coverage than they get. All we’re saying is we should take a really good look at what we are focused on, what we are covering, and make sure it’s accurate and honest. If we make the slightest mistake, if the slightest word is off, it’s just 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, use stories without sources. You mentioned the Scaramucci story, where they had to have reporters resign.”
This prompted a passionate response from Karem.
“Come on, you’re inflaming everybody right here and right now with those words,” Karem said. “This administration has done that as well. If any one of us doesn’t get it right, the audience has the chance to turn the channel or not read us. You have been elected to serve for four years at least, there’s no option other than that. We’re here to ask questions, you’re here to provide the answers, and what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say ‘see, once again, the President is right, and everybody else is fake media.’ But everyone in this room is only trying to do their job.”
Watch the full exchange below.
After the briefing, Karem posted on Twitter, “So, when we are wrong we correct ourselves but when has POTUS ever done that? We are not FAKE news.”