In a stunning display, the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards paraded Sean Spicer on stage for a bit that spoke to both the awards show’s insatiable appetite for viral content and a decidedly unfortunate desire to excuse the former White House Press Secretary of his complicity in the sideshow that is the Trump administration. Sean Spicer is, however, by no means excused.
“This will be the largest audience to witness the Emmys, period— both in person and around the world!” Spicer proudly proclaimed from his podium on stage, in a callback to his since-debunked statement defending the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd. As the crowd applauded, the former White House Press Secretary basked in the adulation with a grin as wide as it was self-aware.
For a fleeting moment, those in Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater seemed to forget who exactly it was they were applauding. Sean Spicer is a full-grown man who resolved to represent a racist, xenophobic, narcissistic authoritarian and his abhorrent agenda. We don’t need to pity Spicer for having endured Trump and making it out the other side. The former Press Secretary should be held responsible for making the sober, sentient decision to serve as the mouthpiece for the man responsible for so denigrating the office of the presidency.
On Sean’s first day representing the White House, ABC News chief Jonathan Karl asked him if he would, as Press Secretary, be honest when speaking to the American people.
“Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium? Will you pledge never to knowingly say something that is not factual?”
“It is. It’s an honor to do this, and yes, I believe that we have to be honest with the American people... There are certain things that we may miss—we may not fully understand when we come out, but our intention is never to lie to you, Jonathan.”
Miraculously, in the same breath, Spicer then proceeded to lie yet again, doubling down on his claim that Trump’s inauguration was the “most watched inaugural address.” The occasion, of course, was neither the highest attended by any stretch of the imagination – as evidenced by a side-by-side comparison photo and a very, very basic use of eyesight - nor even in the top three in terms of television viewership.
Over the course of his tenure as Press Secretary, Spicer would continue to peddle falsehoods. From supporting the president’s assertion that former President Barack Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped to his defense of Trump’s impulsive military action in Syria with the claim, “You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” the former Press Secretary’s relationship with the truth was always tenuous at best.
Despite his unceremonious departure from the White House, Sean Spicer is not part of the resistance, still refuses to admonish Trump in any way, and does not deserve to be in on the joke. He lied on behalf of the president on a constant basis, however fumbling and inarticulate. He could have maintained a shred of his dignity and resigned immediately. He didn’t. He doesn’t get credit, then, for being forced out. As Press Secretary, Spicer owned the responsibility of being honest with the American people, just as he now owns his glaring failure to live up to it. His forced resignation does not relieve him of that burden.
The Emmys deserves its share of the blame for this cheap laugh grab. In an evening otherwise rife with notable achievements for people of color, women, and those in the LGBT community, what does it say to those people by giving a podium – literally – to the former mouthpiece for the most bigoted president in modern history? While we should applaud the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for recognizing such a diverse pool, the presence of Sean Spicer all but undermines that progress.
During the broadcast, Netflix’s Black Mirror won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series. In an especially memorable episode of the series entitled “The National Anthem” (spoiler alert), England’s prime minister is bulldozed into performing an “indecent act” on a pig as ransom to free a kidnapped princess. While the act was to be televised, the populace was not obligated to watch; of course, everyone did. Had one single person ventured outside, they would have realized that the princess had already been released a half-hour prior to the broadcast. But no one could peel their eyes off the television long enough to do so. As a commentary on society, it doesn’t speak to our proudest affinities; hence the concept of a “black mirror.” Assuming the Television Academy understands the premise of the show to which it awarded an Emmy, it should perhaps not be so short-sighted to then perpetuate such a frighteningly similar concept.
On the heels of an election cycle in which Donald Trump enjoyed free, wall-to-wall coverage, this Emmy stunt is representative of an industry that still only values generating buzz, and continues to shirk any understanding of the power it wields and the consequences of doing so irresponsibly. This was a broadcast that sanctimoniously derided the current administration before glorifying and, in effect, pardoning one of its principal villains. The press’s endless reporting on Donald Trump already served to normalize his disgusting behavior; that has been analyzed ad nauseam and, to a wide degree, accepted. Now, it’s happening again with the normalization of Sean Spicer, who stood at the podium as Press Secretary – a job paid for by taxpayer dollars at a rate of $179,700 per year – and knowingly lied to the American people.
Sean Spicer is not a celebrity. Jimmy Fallon does not need to muss his hair. We shouldn’t root for him to show up on Dancing With The Stars. And the Emmys should not parade him on a stage reserved for the year’s most talented icons, because he deserves exactly as much applause as he gave us honesty.