The first 48 hours of the Trump presidency have been a masterclass in how not to handle media relations.
With an already fractious relationship between the media and Trump, the rapidly called press conference on Saturday by his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer has now set what is likely to be an unbridgeable void.
At the press conference, Spicer read a prepared script where he dismissed the story that there had been fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than at Obama’s despite there being incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. After making the statement Spicer left the room refusing to take questions or provide further evidence to rebut the media stories.
This conference came at the end of a day when after Trump’s first visit to the CIA he said of the media: “They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
This gives three key lessons about working with the media:
Don’t alienate the press.
Spicer’s first appearance before the White House press corps should have been one of reconciliation after a fractious campaign and period between the election and inauguration. Instead he took a position of “we are right you are wrong”.
Don’t give facts that can’t be substantiated.
Pictorial evidence and figures from the Washington transport authorities instantly contradict Spicer’s claims. What he didn’t do was provide a basis to his rebuttal and what was the source of his claims. No substantiation was given and the media has continued the narrative which has kept the topic on the agenda.
This was compounded on Sunday when Trump advisors went on TV to justify Spicer’s action and say he was presenting ‘alternative facts’. That was generally derided as meaning ‘untruths’.
Don’t lose credibility
The main question is will the media trust Spicer? That is a question which will be answered in due course but Spicer’s credibility has been damaged and is likely to lead to more problems in the long-term. How will the media respond when there are more important issues to debate such as at times of crisis which with the nature of the job are sure to come.
Much of Trump and Spicer’s behaviour also appears to be a knee-jerk reaction when they feel they are not in control. Like any crisis or reputation management scenario there is a need to deal with the basics first and by doing that the outcome is much more likely to be more pleasing than the alternative we have seen.