Tuesday 21 January 2020

Spicer memoir as bumbling and biased as his briefings

Sean Spicer. Photo: AP
Sean Spicer. Photo: AP

Erik Wemple

During his brief, comic stint as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer had a close-up view of President Trump. In his memoir, 'The Briefing', he portrays a president who may seem foreign to many Americans.

In Spicer's telling, Trump has a "deep vein of compassion and sympathy". He is a "man of Christian instincts and feeling". He is a man who showed his humanity in a phone call after Spicer's father passed away. "The sincere compassion and empathy in his voice was something I will never forget," the former press secretary writes. "I wish more people saw that side of him."

What many people see is something quite different. Instead of a wonderful, loving man, the US public sees a fellow who boasts of "grabbing" women "by the p****", who denigrates the parents of a soldier who was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq, who presided over family separations at the southern border, and so on.

Even a half-witted political memoir would grapple with such a disconnect - perhaps by acknowledging some fault in the boss, or perhaps by comparing his low points with those of other presidents. Yet 'The Briefing' isn't a political memoir, nor is it a work of recent history, nor a tell-all, or tell-anything. Rather, it is a bumbling effort at gaslighting Americans into doubting what they have seen as far back as June 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy.

Spicer marches in lockstep with the Trump administration's now-common practice of maligning the news media.

He rummages through the mistakes of news outlets during the Trump era. The 'Washington Post', the 'New York Times', ABC News, CNN and others are criticised for false reports or suspect claims, such as the time Spicer was accused - falsely, he says - of expropriating a mini-refrigerator from junior staff members.

Spicer draws a conclusion about the media from an incident on Inauguration Day when 'Time' magazine reporter Zeke Miller tweeted incorrectly that the Oval Office's bust of Martin Luther King Jr had been removed. Spicer writes: "It reaffirmed the way the media has been transformed: by believing that being first and sensational is better than being right.

"The problem is that, once tweeted or reported, a breaking story begins the narrative, and no correction ever has as much impact as the initial report, no matter how wrong it is."

To hear Spicer lecture about errors, one might suppose he'd show some concern about the false and misleading tweets that Trump blasts daily to his 53 million followers.

In tracing his career, Spicer lays out a classic Washington tale. He secured grunt work as a young professional, he networked, he gave his life to Republican politics, he got a break or two in the campaign field and he ultimately landed at the Republican National Committee working alongside Reince Priebus.

When Trump came along, there was Spicer, ready to help. For years, in other words, Spicer laboured, all for the privilege of working for this boorish president. Did Spicer undergo a period of soul-searching? There's little sign of it in his book.

Spicer relives the controversy over the crowd size at Trump's inauguration. The morning after the ceremony, Trump phoned his press secretary to ask if he'd seen the news. "The president was clear," Spicer writes. "This needed to be addressed - now." He held a press event and offered what he thought was a strong statement.

"I went back to my office, expecting an 'attaboy' from the president; instead Reince was waiting for me and said the president wasn't happy at all with how I had performed."

Silly Spicer - it had escaped him that the president wanted a "polished, nuanced argument". The former press secretary blames himself for this oversight. "I started to wonder if my first day would be my last," he writes. "I had made a bad first impression, and looking back, that was the beginning of the end." (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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