Tensions boil over in combative WH briefing

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sparred heatedly with reporters Monday over errors made by media outlets in recent stories on President Trump.

In a fiery exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta, a frequent critic of the White House, Sanders disputed the notion that news outlets had made “honest mistakes” in their reporting. The errors, she said, were intentional and malicious. 

“You cannot say it’s an honest mistake when you’re purposely putting out information you know is false,” Sanders said.

Playboy’s White House correspondent Brian Karem — a CNN contributor and one of the administration’s frequent foils — tried to interject, but Sanders shut him down.

“I’m not finished,” she said.

“It’s not 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 incident,” Sanders said.

Asked to provide evidence of the media running with information it knew to be wrong, Sanders cited ABC News’s suspension of Brian Ross, for wrongly reporting that Trump had directed former national security adviser Michael Flynn to make contact with Russian officials before the election.

“There's a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people,” Sanders said.

Acosta disputed the notion that reporters were intentionally getting stories wrong to harm the administration.

“Journalists make honest mistakes and that doesn't make them fake news,” Acosta said.

“When journalists make honest mistakes they should own up to them,” Sanders responded.

“We do,” Acosta shot back.

Sanders tried to move on, but Acosta but repeatedly interjected in an attempt to ask about the women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct.

The White House press secretary said that Acosta had already asked his question and ignored his follow-ups, moving on to other reporters.

The explosive exchange laid bare the mounting tensions between the White House and the news media — and CNN in particular.

On Friday, CNN reported that Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., had received access to hacked Democratic emails from WikiLeaks more than a week before they were leaked to the public — an allegation that NBC and CBS claimed to confirm and that was presented as potential evidence of collusion with Russians during the campaign.

CNN later corrected its story to say that someone who was not affiliated with WikiLeaks had emailed Trump Jr. to notify him that WikiLeaks had already published the hacked emails online.

Trump railed against the network over Twitter and at a rally he held on Friday in Pensacola, Fla.

CNN leaned into the feud on Monday, accusing Trump of being a bully after the president tweeted an attack against one of its anchors, Don Lemon, whom he called the “dumbest man on television.”

“In a world where bullies torment kids on social media to devastating effect on a regular basis with insults and name-calling, it is sad to see our president engaging in the very same behavior himself,” a CNN spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “Leaders should lead by example.”

Trump’s tweet against Lemon came in response to an unflattering profile in The New York Times that ran over the weekend, which claimed that the president watches hours of cable news coverage about himself every day.

“Another false story, this time in the Failing @nytimes, that I watch 4-8 hours of television a day - Wrong!,” Trump tweeted. “Also, I seldom, if ever, watch CNN or MSNBC, both of which I consider Fake News. I never watch Don Lemon, who I once called the ‘dumbest man on television!’ Bad Reporting.”

Critics of the administration have fumed at what they view as an effort to discredit the press by casting stories the president doesn’t like as “fake news.” 

One reporter on Monday asked Sanders why Trump frequently describes the media as perpetrators of “fake news” but isn’t as vocal in condemning the Russian-backed firms that spread false stories over social media during the campaign.

But some media critics have warned that the frenzy around Russia has led to a relaxation of editorial standards, resulting in some outlets running stories that they have later had to correct or retract.

CNN’s correction on Friday was the latest journalistic misstep for the network, which has made criticism of Trump a focal point of its news coverage.

The network previously forced out three journalists responsible for a story it had to retract that claimed Congress was investigating ties between a Russian investment firm and key figures from the Trump campaign.

CNN also had to correct a story — authored by some of its top on-air talent — reporting that former FBI Director James Comey would dispute Trump’s claim that he had told him he was not the focus of an investigation. Testifying before Congress the next day, Comey confirmed Trump’s claim that he had told the president on three different occasions that he was not being investigated.


Many conservatives complain that the anchors and panelists on CNN have abandoned any pretense of treating the administration fairly. They are particularly put off by CNN's high-profile “Facts First” ad campaign that mockingly digs at the Trump administration as untruthful and delusional.

Trump and his allies, meanwhile, have seized on embarrassing retractions and corrections at other prominent news outlets in recent days.

The White House last week disputed several media reports that special counselor Robert Mueller had subpoenaed Trump’s personal financial records from a German bank, leading several news outlets to alter their reporting.

And over the weekend, the president demanded that a Washington Post reporter be fired for misrepresenting the size of the crowd that had gathered to see his rally in Pensacola.

The reporter deleted the tweet and apologized for the error, but Sanders hammered him from the White House podium on Monday nonetheless.

 “This 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 rewrite and make editor's notes to a number of different stories, and some of them with major impacts, including moving markets. This is a big problem, and we think it should be something taken seriously.”

- This story was updated at 5:08 p.m.