White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday rebuffed criticism that he treated April Ryan, an American Urban Radio Networks correspondent, unfairly during a heated exchange at a press briefing the prior day, saying such accusations are "demeaning to her."
Spicer, during Tuesday's press briefing, took issue with a question from Ryan on alleged ties between President Trump's campaign and Russian officials.
"It seems like you're hellbent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays," Spicer said to Ryan. "You're asking me a question and I'm going to answer it. Which is the president– I'm sorry, please stop shaking your head again."
Spicer's request for Ryan not to shake her head triggered major backlash from journalists on social media, some of whom said the White House spokesman reacted that way because Ryan is an African-American woman.
Spicer responded to the wave of criticism during an interview Wednesday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, calling Ryan a "tough reporter" and saying he does not discriminate when having heated exchanges with journalists.
"We have very spirited back-and-forths, and I think that's what makes her a tough reporter," Spicer said. "Frankly, I'm kind of astonished. I think if you look at the exchanges I have with Jonathan Karl or Peter Alexander or a number of the other individuals in the press briefing room, Jim Acosta from CNN, we go back and forth all the time, rather heatedly in fact."
The press secretary added that it is "demeaning" to imply that Ryan cannot handle such heated exchanges.
"It's frankly demeaning for some folks to say that she can't take it," Spicer said. "To suggest that somehow because of her gender or her race she'd be treated differently I think is frankly demeaning to her."
"She's a tough woman that fights every day to get out there for her publication and her audience to get the questions that she wants answered and I respect that. I really do," Spicer continued.
Ryan said Wednesday on CNN that she has noted a "pattern" of Spicer treating female reporters differently, but did not explicitly accuse him of sexism. Spicer reportedly called a female journalist from Politico an "idiot with no real sources" in a recent email, although there is no indication the comment was based on her gender.