During a White House news briefing on Thursday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated that President Trump sees no meaningful distinction between erroneous news reports and the sort of intentional disinformation Russian bots used to aid his presidential bid.
That admission came in response to a reporter’s question about whether “there’s any concern in the White House that the president’s frequent use of the term ‘fake news’ to describe mainstream outlets muddies the water a bit, and makes it harder for citizens to identify the actual fake news that the intelligence agencies have said countries like Russia used to interfere in the last election.”
Sanders dodged the question, saying, “I think that the president has a great frustration with the fact that a lot of times you have inaccurate information that is being presented as factual, a lot of time you have opinions that are being presented as news, and they’re not, and I think that’s a real concern and something that certainly should be looked at.”
The reporter followed up, asking Sanders “if Trump sees a distinction between erroneous reports or reporting that he finds offensive and the sort of fake news that we saw pushed by Russian intelligence — does he see a distinction there?”
Sanders indicated Trump and the administration do not.
“We see a problem with any stories that are inaccurate or untruthful being presented to the American people as facts,” she said, punting.
Sanders’ comments came hours after Trump urged the Senate Intelligence Committee — which is currently focused on an ongoing investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian operatives — to instead investigate “the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!”
Why Isn't the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2017
Trump’s tweet appeared to be in reference to an NBC report that claimed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently called Trump a “moron” — a claim Tillerson himself didn’t outright deny during a news conference on Wednesday.
In another exchange during Thursday’s briefing, Sanders admonished reporters, saying that they “have a responsibility to tell the truth. To be accurate.” Meanwhile, the Trump administration itself has brazenly and unapologetically lied about everything from the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd size to crime rates in American cities. Trump has also used his platform as president to repeatedly promote Fox News — a pro-Trump network heavy on commentary masquerading as news that has recently pushed explosive anti-Democratic Party “reporting” that turned out to be bogus.
While Sanders and Trump may not distinguish between reporting and propaganda, the difference is clear. Earlier Thursday, ThinkProgress detailed some of the social media ads Russian bot accounts pushed to help Trump last year during the election. The posts smeared Obama as a “communist”, framed Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton as a corrupt tyrant, and touted Trump’s hardline immigration policies as “the only way if we are to survive as a free nation.”
During a news conference on Thursday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said his committee trusts the intelligence community’s consensus that Russian operatives interfered in the presidential election on behalf of Trump.
Burr’s comments were significant, given that earlier this year he was enlisted by the White House to try and tamp down media reports about the Trump’s campaign contacts with Russia. Burr has since indicated he regrets his involvement in that scheme, telling reporters in July that he won’t visit the White House while his committee’s investigation is ongoing.