White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday got into a testy exchange with CNN's Jim Acosta and other reporters over erroneous media reports about the Trump administration over the past week, accusing the media of "purposefully misleading the American people."
A reporter brought up a saga from over the weekend where Washington Post reporter David Weigel sent an erroneous tweet about the crowd size at President Donald Trump's Friday rally in Pensacola, Florida. Weigel apologized for the tweet, which suggested there were scores of empty seats at the rally, and deleted it, but Trump soon after called Weigel out by name and said he should be fired.
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Asked if Trump saw a distinction between Weigel's mistake and the purposeful disinformation campaign by the Russians during the 2016 election, Sanders said it was Trump calling out a "very direct and false accusation lodged against him."
"There was nothing more than an individual trying to put their bias into their reporting and something that, frankly, has gotten a little bit out of control," Sanders said. "We've seen it time and time again over the last couple of weeks. A number of outlets have had to retract and change and re-write and make editor's notes to a number of different stories, some of them with major impacts including moving markets. This is a big problem and we think it's something that should be taken seriously."
Sanders said she hadn't spoken with Trump about the Russia comparison specifically. Acosta, whose network reeled Friday from a retracted report that the Trump campaign got advance knowledge of hacked WikiLeaks documents last September, then cut in.
"I would just say, Sarah, that journalists make honest mistakes and that doesn't make them fake news, but the question that I have—" Acosta started.
"When journalists make honest mistakes they should own up to them," Sanders said. "Sometimes, and a lot of times you don't."
"I'm sorry. I'm not finished," she said, her voice rising as she and the press spoke over each other. "There's a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people. Something that happens regularly. You can't say—I'm not done."
"You cannot say that it's an honest mistake when you are purposely putting out information that you know to be false or when you're taking information that hasn't been validated, that hasn't been offered any credibility, and that has been continually denied by a number of people including people with direct knowledge of an instance," she said.
Acosta said it wasn't his original line of questioning, but he wanted Sanders to give him an example of an "intentional" mistake by the press. Sanders cited Brian Ross' ABC News report where he initially reported that Trump, as a presidential candidate, directed Michael Flynn to contact the Russians.
The report caused the financial markets to briefly freefall, but Ross later corrected the report to say that President-elect Trump issued the directive to Flynn, not candidate Trump. ABC News suspended Ross for four weeks for the false report.
Acosta tried to get in his original question about sexual harassment accusations made against Trump, but Sanders closed him off, saying she was moving onto another reporter.
"I'm not going to respond to your question," she said.