White House vows to fight press ‘tooth and nail’ over Trump coverage

A day after Donald Trump used his first visit to CIA headquarters to accuse the media of underestimating the crowds at his inauguration, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus expressed indignation at the reports and referred to them as 'attacks'

Donald Trump speaks with his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, during his inaugural parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo
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WASHINGTON // The White House vowed on Sunday to fight the news media “tooth and nail” over what officials say are unfair attacks on president Donald Trump.

A day after the Republican president used his first visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday to accuse the media of underestimating the crowds at his inauguration, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus expressed indignation at the reports and referred to them as “attacks”.

“The point is not the crowd size. The point is the attacks and the attempt to delegitimize this president in one day. And we’re not going to sit around and take it,” Mr Priebus said.

Mr Priebus complained about a report by a press pool reporter that said the bust of Martin Luther King Jr had been removed from the Oval Office. The report on Friday night was quickly corrected but Mr Trump called out the reporter by name at the Central Intelligence Agency on Saturday, as did spokesman Sean Spicer later in the day.

“We’re going to fight back tooth and nail every day and twice on Sunday,” Mr Priebus said.

The chief of staff also repeated Mr Spicer’s accusations that the media manipulated photographs of the National Mall to show smaller crowds at Friday’s inauguration.

Aerial photographs showed the crowds for Mr Trump’s inauguration were smaller than in 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn in.

The unexpectedly high turnout for Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington outpaced the inauguration turnout. The Washington Metro system reported 275,000 rides of as of 11am on Saturday.

This compared with 193,000 rides by 11am on Friday, and 513,000 by the same time during Mr Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

On Saturday, Mr Trump wildly overstated the size of the crowds that gathered on the National Mall for his inauguration, saying throngs “went all the way back to the Washington monument” despite photos and live video showing the crowd stopping well short of the landmark.

Yesterday Mr Trump responded to women’s marches held across the US and in major cities across the world a day before by both sarcastically undermining the events and defending the rights of demonstrators.

“Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly,” tweeted the president.

Ninety-five minutes later, he struck a far more conciliatory tone, however.

“Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognise the rights of people to express their views,” he tweeted.

The discordant reaction underscored that the new president has little intention of changing the defiant approach that defined his election campaign – particularly when it comes to the media and those who oppose him.

Also on Sunday, aides made clear that Mr Trump would not release his tax returns now that he’s taken office, breaking with a decades-long tradition of transparency. Every president since 1976 has released their returns.

Throughout the campaign, Mr Trump refused to make his filings public, saying they were under audit by the Internal Revenue Service and that he would release them only when the review is complete. Tax experts and IRS commissioner John Koskinen said such audits don’t bar taxpayers from releasing their returns.

“He’s not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care,” said White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.

Mr Priebus, meanwhile, said the president would spend his first full week in office undoing some of his predecessor’s agenda and planned to sign executive orders on immigration and trade. The chief of staff did not provide specifics but during the campaign Mr Trump vowed to scuttle trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and Mr Obama’s executive order deferring deportations for 700,000 people who were brought into the country illegally as minors.

* Reuters, Associated Press