According to this Anti Media news article, Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, fabricated an attack on a US warship by Iran.

At a press briefing on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer asserted that Iran had attacked a U.S. naval vessel. This statement was taken as part and parcel of his argument defending the Trump administration’s decision to put Iran “on notice.”

However, as the Intercept confirmed directly with Pentagon spokesperson Christopher Sherwood, the attack in question actually took place on a Saudi warship, and the suspected perpetrators of the attack are the Houthi rebels currently leading an insurrection in Yemen, not Iran.

  • The article link you posted was a literal copy from 'theantimedia.org'. I have replaced the link.
    – user22865
    Feb 6, 2017 at 10:28
  • 1
    Since answering the question, I notice that the Anti-Media report does not claim that he fabricated the story - just that he made a mistake. This claim is not notable.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 6, 2017 at 12:29
  • When I first heard this, I thought he was talking about the Start incident, and thought, "...but that was a long time ago!" (So long, in fact, that I had forgotten it was perpetrated by Iraq, not Iran.)
    – cobaltduck
    Feb 6, 2017 at 14:34
  • 3
    @Oddthinking I'm not sure if far-left clickbait sites count as 'notable' or not, but if they do here's an article that claims it was made up: Trump’s White House invents Iranian attack on U.S. ship; Pentagon admits it never happened. I've seen that link being shared around social media, unfortunately.
    – reirab
    Feb 6, 2017 at 15:50
  • 1
    Here is a video of the exchange in question. youtu.be/puJChpu5BzM?t=25
    – ventsyv
    Feb 6, 2017 at 17:53

3 Answers 3


Two errors were made by Sean Spicer: who was attacked, and who did the attacking.

The Anti-Media article in question has a link to an Intercept article that demonstrates that Sean Spicer misspoke and quickly corrected himself when the error in who was attacked was pointed out.

He did not "fabricate" or "misrepresent" an attack on the American Navy.

Major Garrett of CBS News quietly corrected him, saying “a Saudi vessel,” and Spicer then responded almost inaudibly: “Sorry, thank you, yes a Saudi vessel. Yes, that’s right.” He did not in any way address his false claim that it was an Iranian attack, however.

That second error - who did the attacking - was later confirmed as false by the Pentagon.

Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood confirmed to The Intercept that the attack was in fact conducted against a Saudi warship, and that the Pentagon suspects Houthi rebels. “It was a Saudi ship – it was actually a frigate” said Sherwood. “It was [conducted by] suspected Houthi rebels off the coast of Yemen.”

So, Sean Spicer did not immediately correct that mistake.

The source of the confusion is suspected to be a faulty Fox News report:

Fox News initially misreported that a U.S. ship was somehow the target — which is perhaps where some of the confusion in the White House originated

One might denounce Spicer for not being careful with the facts and for not double-checking news reports. However, the claim that he deliberately fabricated or misrepesented an attack against the USA is a beat up, which is inconsistent with the very media reports being cited by the original article in the question.

  • 5
    Removed many comments debating the intentions of Spicer. Debating intentions is off topic on Skeptics, including comments.
    – Sklivvz
    Feb 6, 2017 at 20:22
  • 3
    @Oddthinking Spicer's quote is "General Flynn was really clear yesterday .... that Iran’s additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel" and General Flynn really said "Iran tested a ballistic missile, and one of its proxy terrorist groups attacked a Saudi vessel". So the "our" vs. "Saudi" part is a mistake, but the Iran part is essentially correct, as far as Spicer correctly describing Flynn's statement.
    – DavePhD
    Feb 7, 2017 at 2:44
  • 6
    You have a very unusual definition of "not misrepresent". Feb 7, 2017 at 20:27
  • @Sklivvz would you care maybe to explain what the verb "including" in the sentence "Debating intentions is off topic on Skeptics, including comments" includes, so to understand if it not includes an answer that is plainly debating intentions?
    – motoDrizzt
    Feb 8, 2017 at 11:31
  • 1
    @motoDrizzt it includes answers: intentions are impossible to prove objectively based on evidence, they are only something we can ultimately guess. For this reason we do not allow questions about them, so we don't need to write answers about them either.
    – Sklivvz
    Feb 8, 2017 at 12:37

This seems to be Press Secretary Sean Spicer misrepresenting a different attack that actually happened.

Apparently on Monday 30th January 2017, Footage and news broke that Huthi Rebels had attacked a Saudi Arabian Ship.

A Saudi frigate on patrol west of the port city of Hodeida was hit by a terrorist attack from three suicide boats belonging to the Houthi militias, (source)

Youtube video claiming to be footage of the attack

It was this attack that Whitehouse Press Secretary Sean Spicer misrepresented as an "Iranian attack on a US Warship".


Now these sources could all be described as left leaning, but even right-leaning outlets like Fox News confirmed the attack happened and was from Houthi Rebels (allegedly backed by Iran) and towards a Saudi Arabian Navy Ship.

  • Your quote is not in your source. Instead the source has: A Saudi frigate on patrol west of Hodeidah port came under attack from three suicide boats belonging to the Houthi militias. Would be incorrect to call it terrorism as it does not target non-combatants.
    – gerrit
    Feb 6, 2017 at 14:32
  • @gerrit I was quoting from here (german subdomain site). They had it in quotes and claimed it was from the source, so I suspected it was unaltered.
    – Magisch
    Feb 6, 2017 at 15:20
  • Perhaps Reuters changed it later.
    – gerrit
    Feb 6, 2017 at 15:31
  • @gerrit the more significant misquote is "Iranian attack on a US Warship". The actual quote is "I think General Flynn was really clear yesterday that Iran has violated the Joint Resolution, that Iran’s additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel..."
    – DavePhD
    Feb 7, 2017 at 13:41

According to the official transcript:

Q The President and his national security advisor have been clear the administration wants to put Iran “on notice,” but they haven’t specified what that is. What options are on the table? And are there any options, like military action, that might be off the table at this point?

MR. SPICER: So I think General Flynn was really clear yesterday that Iran has violated the Joint Resolution, that Iran’s additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel are ones that we are very clear are not going to sit by and take.

I think that we will have further updates for you on those additional actions, but clearly we wanted to make sure that Iran understood that they are on notice, this is not going un-responded to.


Q Thank you very much, Sean.

Q It was a Saudi vessel.

MR. SPICER: Thank you. Yes.

Q They thought it was an American, but it's a Saudi vessel.

MR. SPICER: Right, that’s right. John.

where "General Flynn was really clear yesterday" means Flynn's statement:

Today, the United States sanctioned twenty-five individuals and entities that provide support to Iran’s ballistic missile program and to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and engages in and supports violent activities that destabilize the Middle East. This behavior seems continuous despite the very favorable deal given to Iran by the Obama Administration. These sanctions target these behaviors.

Iran’s senior leadership continues to threaten the United States and our allies. Since the Obama Administration agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran in 2015, Iran’s belligerent and lawless behavior has only increased. Examples include the abduction of ten of our sailors and two patrol boats in January 2016, unwarranted harassment of vessel traffic and repeated weapons tests. Just this week, Iran tested a ballistic missile, and one of its proxy terrorist groups attacked a Saudi vessel in the Red Sea.

The international community has been too tolerant of Iran’s bad behavior. The ritual of convening a United Nations Security Council in an emergency meeting and issuing a strong statement is not enough. The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests.

The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.

You must log in to answer this question.