Howard Kurtz wanted to know what was going on with Sean Spicer and the cameras.
Or more like the lack of cameras.
Lots of people have been talking about that. President Trump’s press secretary went more than a week without facing the press on TV, Erik Wemple noted in the The Washington Post. The White House seems to be making a habit of restricting cameras and audio at briefings, the New York Times wrote.
“They are basically pointless at this point,” a CNN correspondent said recently after a no-TV, no-audio conversation with Spicer.
Kurtz, who works for Fox News, wanted to ask the man himself. And he did so on Sunday. On camera even — in an exclusive interview outside the White House.
“You’ve been criticized for, you know, for holding fewer briefings, and for moving some of them off camera,” Kurtz told Spicer. “Is the president so frustrated by the spectacle of these television briefings that he’s trying to shrink the number?”
“We haven’t held fewer briefings,” Spicer said. “We’ve held a briefing almost every single day.”
“The number has gone down since March,” Kurtz said.
“No, it hasn’t.”
They stopped debating the number of briefings. Kurtz pressed his major point about the restrictions on recording them.
“In a couple instances, not even allowing the audio to be recorded,” he noted. “What are you trying to tell–”
Spicer interrupted. “It’s a very one-sided discussion that’s occurring now,” he said.
One day, Spicer explained, CNN had broken some rules and aired audio it wasn’t supposed to.
“So we had to clarify” the rules, he said.
And anyway, he continued, off-camera briefings were a good thing. “They’ve been very substantive.”
The White House press secretary said no-camera press briefings were especially good because they didn’t distract people on days when President Trump was making a speech.
He digressed a bit from this point to talk about a speech Trump had made about a bill he’d signed, and how it was a good bill that would help veterans, and it was good for the press secretary to not distract from the speech by going on television.
Kurtz listened to this for a while, just him and Spicer beneath the White House’s north portico. “EXCLUSIVE,” read a chyron on the screen.
“Going in a different direction here,” Kurtz said, finally. “Jim Acosta has gone on kind of a campaign against you.” He was talking about the CNN correspondent mentioned above, who called no-TV no-audio press briefings basically useless.
“It’s sad if he believes if it doesn’t occur on TV … ,” Spicer said, without finishing the sentence.
“I think some of these reporters are more interested in their YouTube clips than they are in factual news,” he continued. “You look at the number of questions that get asked over and over again, just so a reporter can get a clip for themselves saying something or yelling at someone.”
But a few seconds later, Spicer said: “I think cameras are fine, and there’s an opportunity to have that.”
There should be a mix, he elaborated: Cameras some days and no cameras on other days, for instance when Trump is speaking.
There were other topics discussed in this mini one-on-one press briefing, which lasted less than 10 minutes when it aired on Fox.
For example, Kurtz wanted to know about Trump’s recent admission that he had not taped his conversations with an FBI director — contradicting the president’s tweet weeks earlier: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
“He insinuated something that wasn’t true,” Kurtz said.
“No,” Spicer said. “He said, ‘I hope there’s not [tapes].’ “
That wasn’t what Trump had tweeted, but Kurtz didn’t press the point.
They moved on to the health-care bill. Kurtz wanted to know why Trump once praised, at Rose Garden ceremony, a bill passed by House Republicans, but now says he wants a less stringent bill, like the Senate’s version.
“The president made it clear from the beginning that he wants a bill with heart,” Spicer said. “He understands how important health care is to individuals and families.”
He didn’t really answer the question, and Kurtz did not follow up.
Near the end of the interview, the Fox News host brought up reports that Spicer may be moving out of his job into a less visible role in the White House.
“Are you a little weary of the televised combat?” Kurtz asked, circling back to the matter of the cameras.
“Look,” Spicer said. “It’s an honor to have this job. It’s truly a privilege for me to be able to do this on behalf of the president.”
Now Kurtz interrupted; there were only a few minutes left in the interview.
“Are you enjoying the back and forth with the correspondents?” he asked. “With the cameras on?”
“What I like is doing my part to advance the president’s agenda,” Spicer said.
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