- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
White House press secretary Sean Spicer pushed back on accusations that he was too tough on reporter April Ryan during a press briefing Tuesday.
Spicer told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday that it’s “demeaning” for people to say that Ryan, of American Urban Radio Networks, “can’t take it” when he pushes back on her questioning.
During the briefing Tuesday, Spicer told Ryan to “stop shaking [her] head” and “report the facts” after she asked what the White House was doing to try to repair its image amid investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Spicer responded that Republicans and Democrats alike had said there was no evidence pointing to President Donald Trump’s team colluded with Russia in election meddling.
“I’m sorry that that disgusts you,” Spicer told Ryan. “You’re shaking your head. … At some point, April, you’re going to have to take ‘no’ for an answer with respect to whether or not there was collusion.”
Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton slammed Spicer for his comments to Ryan.
“Just look at all that’s happened in the last few days to women who were simply doing their jobs,” Clinton said. “April Ryan, a respected journalist with unrivaled integrity, was doing her job just this afternoon in the White House press room when she was patronized and cut off trying to ask a question.”
Hewitt played the Clinton clip for Spicer, and Spicer said he disagreed with Clinton’s characterization of what happened.
“I agree with Secretary Clinton in the fact that April is a tough reporter,” Spicer said. “I think if you ask April, both on and off camera, during the briefings, she comes up here often with a very spiriting back and forth, and I think that’s what makes her a tough reporter.”
Spicer said he didn’t treat Ryan any differently than he treats male reporters.
“Frankly, I’m sort of astonished,” Spicer said. “I think if you look at the exchanges I have with [ABC News’] Jonathan Karl or [NBC News’] 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.”
He continued: “April is a tough reporter that knows how to throw it out and take it back. … I think it’s frankly demeaning for some folks to say that she can’t take it. We went back and forth, I disagreed with … the angle and the way she was coming at the question, but that’s what we do, we go back and forth.”
Spicer also said he respects the job Ryan is there to do.
“She’s a tough reporter, she grew up in Baltimore, she knows how to mix it up with the best of them,” he said. “… She’s a tough woman who fights every day to get out there and for her publication and for her audience to get the questions she wants answered and I respect that. I really do.”
But he also said he’s in the briefing room to do his job, which often includes defending the administration.
“I’m willing to answer any question,” Spicer said. “And I’ve sat there on most days for more than an hour. … But I have an obligation, frankly, Hugh, that when someone comes in and attacks the narrative or makes accusations against the administration, to push back and push back tough. And I don’t look and say ‘well, I’m gonna push back lighter on this person because of their gender.'”
In an appearance on CNN on Wednesday morning, Ryan responded to the controversy.
“At the end of the day, I’m a reporter, he’s a press secretary,” she said. “We both have jobs to do. I’m going back today to do my job and he’s going to do his job and I take it for what it is. And as an administration is calling us the enemy of the people, I guess we saw some of that thought process yesterday.”
When Ryan was asked whether she thought Spicer treated female reporters differently than male reporters, she said she could only speak to how he deals with her. She also cited an incident from the weekend when Spicer said Politico reporter Tara Palmeri is an “idiot” with “no real sources.”
“I happen to be a black woman, but I’m part of the press,” Ryan said. “And I guess this is a part of a series of two women this week who have been in the news over something with the press secretary.”