White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed on Tuesday that his boss, the president of the United States, is a committed conspiracy theorist.
There is no other way to interpret what transpired at Spicer’s daily briefing. On repeated occasions, reporters asked him why Donald Trump continues to argue that 3 to 5 million undocumented immigrants voted illegally in the 2016 election. And on each occasion, Spicer responded that Trump says it because he believes it to be true.
“The president does believe that,” Spicer told one reporter.
It’s a “longstanding belief,” he told another.
“He’s believed this for a long time,” he said to a third.
And yet, Trump continues to make these baseless claims, which began during the election and have continued after the campaign ended with Trump losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million voters. In November, Trump tweeted that millions of people voted illegally, and major news organizations credulously promoted the false claim. And on Monday night, during a meeting with congressional leadership, he once again said millions of people voting illegally cost him the popular vote win.
As Spicer explained that the president believes in the existence of mass voter fraud, multiple reporters noted that just one day prior, Spicer had promised to never knowingly tell a lie from behind the lectern.
But Spicer never violated that pledge. When he came out and said that Trump believes that millions of undocumented immigrants cast ballots against him, he was telling the truth. Trump genuinely does believe it.
All of this creates a conundrum for the press. How are reporters supposed to cover someone who believes in demonstrable lies, least of all a president?
The New York Times didn’t mince words with Monday night’s headline ― “Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers” ― while other news organizations chose different ways to report that Trump’s voting claim lacked merit.
But Tuesday’s briefing presented a problem for a press corps seeking an acceptable answer to why Trump believes ― and recklessly promotes ― a claim that has no basis in fact.
Spicer said that Trump’s belief is based on “studies and evidence,” but provided none. At one point, he mentioned a Pew study as potential evidence, though the primary author of the study has already shot down suggestions that research supports Trump’s claim.
“He believes what he believes based on the information he’s provided,” Spicer told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, the fourth reporter to raise the issue Tuesday.
“If he does believe that, what does that mean for democracy?” Zeleny asked.
“It means that I’ve answered your question,” Spicer responded.
“Have you?” Zeleny asked.