I must admit that when I saw Sean come onstage my first thought was “good for you, Sean, making fun of yourself.” But, given a few more minutes to think about it, I’ve come down on the side of the critics who say Spicer should not be “normalized” after lying to the country so many times from the White House podium.
Sean, who I knew a little before leaving DC, had a reputation as a good spokesman before his White House days and as the longest-serving Republican National Committee spokesman (ahem, beating my tenure, but this isn’t about me). His time in the Trump White House though has changed that reputation and all the “re-branding” in the world isn’t going to cover it up.
What will change that is Spicer showing regret for what he did from that podium and truly apologizing not just to one reporter from the New York Times as he did Monday, but to the entire White House press corps who he maligned and lied to for seven months and, more importantly, to the country’s citizens, many of whom believed what he said at his daily briefings.
One can say, as Sean did, that a spokesman’s job is to represent his principal’s views, not his or her own. True. But when a spokesman knowingly lies repeatedly, with aforethought and with malice, that’s a different story. If you’re asked to do that by your principal and you know you are lying, you resign the job. Nothing is more important to a political spokesman than his or her credibility.
There are ways to get around a tough question when responding to a reporter but outright lies aren’t one, especially from that podium. Policy questions are a different matter. You are paid to respond in your principal’s voice and with his or her position. I often didn’t agree with my boss when responding to a policy question but the reporters didn’t want to hear my views. When it comes to numbers and facts, though, that’s a different story.
(Once, a principal I worked for called me in to say the Washington Post was about to publish a story saying he was having an affair. I asked him, "is it true?" We stared at each other for a few minutes before he said, "yes, it's true." I said okay, then, here''s what we do and laid out that since he wasn't paid with public dollars and didn't hold public office, his having an affair on "company time" was no one's business and the Post may have it, but they'll never publish it because he broke no law nor did he betray a public trust. His personal morals were another story. No I won't tell you who it was but I will tell you the Post did not publish the story.)
Howard Kurtz, media reporter for Fox News, writes that all press secretaries have lied. I would dispute that but I’ll let it go for the moment because sometimes one’s truth can be another’s lie. In Spicer’s case, though, there was a black-and-white difference between the truth and his boss’ lies which Spicer echoed. Spicer went to that podium and flat out lied, pointing accusatory fingers at the “fake news” media as he did. Making them the offenders rather than his boss. Maligning their reputations while trying to build up his boss’.
Spicer is the first of the Trump team to try to find his future after being associated with this President. If Spicer, the face of the administration for seven months, finds his way easily to “re-branding,” then others following him will too. (I put “re-branding” in quotes because you might be able to re-brand a commercial product but I don’t believe you can “re-brand” a person. For a person, you, literally, have to change yourself.)
I don’t begrudge Spicer, a young man, the ability to financially support his family but his record cannot be wiped clean by a one-minute appearance on an awards show and a visit to a friendly host for a late night show. You shouldn’t be allowed to parlay seven months of continual lies into seven figures of income. But, I’m guessing Spicer will.
I don't see why a TV network would hire him to be a talking head with his history but If corporations want to pay him that kind of money to have his knowledge on the payroll, that’s their choice. If groups or businesses want to pay him five figures to give an hour speech, they have that choice too.
Emmy host Stephen Colbert wasn’t going for the ratings since he kept Spicer’s appearance a secret, which means intentional or not, he was “normalizing” Spicer. An irony for a late night host who has shot to Number One by lampooning Trump.
The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush interviewed Spicer the morning after the Emmys. He asked if Spicer regretted his Day One comments, lying about the attendance at Trump’s inauguration. Spicer’s answer: “Of course I do.”
Quite a different position than he took in July on the day he resigned when he told Sean Hannity on Fox, “I have no regrets.”
Some things never change.