For some people in our nation’s capital, being skewered on Saturday Night Live might be a badge of recognition and courage. But in White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s case, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. It’s ferocious satire that not only makes him look like an emotional train wreck, but also gets under his boss’s skin (not that that’s too difficult a task) to boot.
Being Donald Trump’s press secretary is like volunteering to be the victim of a firing squad every day, explaining and defending innumerable crises, mistakes and of course, alternative facts. And considering the internal bickering, jockeying for power, constant news leaks and Cabinet members and Congress being left in the dark over executive orders and policy decisions, it’s a position you would find very few people in our nation’s capital eager to fill. So far, Spicer’s game plan is based on the theory that an extremely aggressive offense is the best defense, no matter how difficult those positions are to clarify or champion.
The president has declared full-out war on the Fourth Estate, repeatedly stating that as the purveyors of “fake news,” the press is the real enemy of the American people. The cruel irony here is that Trump is the Editor-in-Chief of the Fake News Department. Yes, there is an inherent liberal slant in certain news outlets, but over the past decade, the majority of fake news has been generated by the extreme Right. With most people getting their news from platforms that support their own views and Trump’s base willing to believe everything he says, the White House has created an adversarial relationship with the press that will only become more contentious, while using this confrontation to distract the public from this Administration’s mistruths, mishaps and misdeeds and the lack of coherent policy on many of the critical issues facing our nation.
In addition to filling the air with vitriolic rhetoric, the White House has added two new weapons to its media arsenal. The first is going into stealth mode with no comments and no responses to press inquiries and the second and more egregious, happened last Friday when Spicer barred reporters from The New York Times, BBC, BuzzFeed News, CNN, Politico, The Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post from his daily White House press briefing. Selectively choosing which news outlets are given direct access to information is a not only a threat to the fundamental freedom of the press, but an attack on one of the pillars of democracy.
Until recently, Spicer was manning the media front lines alone, except for help of the president’s trusted Counselor, Kellyanne Conway, who when not being obsequious or promoting clothing lines, was busy filling the airwaves with out-of-the-loop comments and insensible stories, and his Senior Advisor, Stephen Miller, who was clearly auditioning for the role of a Not Ready for Prime Time Player. Now, White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, and Senior Advisor Steve “the media should keep its mouth shut” Bannon have doubled down with further assaults on the press, which leaves Spicer the thankless task of acting as both an attack dog and minesweeper, seemingly oblivious to pain as the national media takes target practice at his news conferences.
As a practical Republican, who among this mayhem remains determined to seek out commonsense pragmatists representing both parties, I’ve created a new podcast, Practically Political, featuring conversations with reasonable, rational voices including politicians, members of the media, concerned citizens and Washington insiders.
To gain a deeper perspective of how a White House Press Secretary views the current state in Washington, I arranged an interview with Mike McCurry, former White Houses Press Secretary for President Bill Clinton, as well as the Co-Chair of the 2016 Presidential Debates. We discussed the chaos of disruption, divisiveness, and dysfunction during the first months of the Trump Administration, as well as the long-term view for our nation. Listen in to our conversation to hear from someone with first hand experience in the trenches of media and presidential politics.
The fact is that no one really knows what kind of mayhem will take place in the White House in the months to come. But whatever the news brings, there is no doubt Sean Spicer will continue to find himself in the hottest seat in town.