Press Secretary Sean Spicer snapped out at reporters on Thursday (16 March) as he tried to defend President Donald Trump's ever-eroding wiretapping claims.

In one heated debate with CNN's Jim Acosta, Spicer labelled the journalist's line of questioning "cute" and joked about his lack of intelligence ... clearances.

He also sparred with ABC's Jonathan Karl, during which row he accused the media of "cherry-picking" certain narratives to push forward false narratives.

It follows statements from both the House and Senate Intelligence Committee chairs which said there was no evidence to suggest that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

Those conclusions were reached after the Justice Department failed to provide evidence to the committees within their given deadline and requested a one-week extension.

During his daily press briefing, Spicer said that Trump stood by his claims and repeated the assertion that when Trump said wiretapping, he did not mean it literally, but meant surveillance in the wider context.

Spicer's spat with reporters began after he was asked by ABC's Karl what his reaction was to the conclusions of the Senate and House committees, after stating a day earlier that they would "vindicate" Trump.

In response, Spicer said: "It's interesting to me – just as a point of interest – that one entity says one thing that claims one thing, you guys cover it ad nauseam.

"When Devin Nunes [House Intelligence Committee chair] came out and said, 'I think it's very possible', yesterday there was [sic] crickets from you guys.

"When Devin Nunes came out and said there was no connection that he saw to Russia – crickets ... you don't want to cover the stuff."

Moments later, another heated exchange ensued when CNN's Acosta alleged Spicer and Trump were expanding the meaning of wiretapping because that claim was incorrect.

"Jim, I think that's cute, but at the end of the day, we've talked about this," Spicer replied. "The president had the quote 'wiretapping' in quotes – he was referring to broad surveillance.

"The bottom line is the investigation by the House and the Senate has not been provided all of the information."

Spicer later added: "Jim, I find it somehow interesting that you believe that you have all of this information, you've been read in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.

"You're coming to some serious conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence ... eh ... well ..."

Acosta interrupted: "Well, give me some credit. A little intelligence, maybe."

"[Intelligence] clearance," Spicer said. "I wasn't done. Maybe both."

Smoke-and-mirror distractions?

Media analysts believe Spicer and Trump's use of unproven claims resemble the McCarthyite tactics of using wild accusations as a smoke-and-mirrors technique of distraction.

In a piece for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Anders Hofseth wrote: "Donald Trump has a steady and massive output of stuff that would demand serious willpower in the media to resist. The symbiosis between Donald Trump and click-driven media is creating a smokescreen making it possible for him to steer public attention.

"Which is why the media will often end up writing yet another article on whether Trump had the highest electoral margin since Reagan or not, while simultaneously forgetting to mention that he's been avoiding talking about his campaign's contact with Russia.

"The sheer amount of diversions is weakening the ability of the media to cover the actual politics and setting the agenda. Too often coverage is governed by what is said, rather than by observation of what is actually going on, combined with consideration of what is important because it will concern many, or imply major changes."

Sean Spicer
Press Secretary Sean Spicer in heated exchanges with reporters during Thursday's (16 March) press briefing. Reuters