No Picture

Farewell Sean Spicer, the breakout TV star of 2017

July 25, 2017 aurorax 0

His briefings were a television show that the whole country could watch together.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer points to a questioner during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, June 26, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

They said appointment television didn’t exist anymore. They said our entertainment landscape was too fractured for that.

“You’ll never have another water-cooler moment,” they said. They took a long drag on a cigarette, squinted at the horizon. Dust swirled somewhere in the distance. “Must-see TV is dead.”

But they didn’t know what was coming. They didn’t know about Sean Spicer.

Sean Spicer served as White House press secretary for 187 days. In his short, spectacular hot mess of a tenure, he became the breakout television star of 2017.

From his illustrious first outing on January 21, when he was still technically part of a transition team — “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.” — to his resignation six months and one day later, Spicer did something that all those Hollywood liberals said nobody could do anymore: He created a television show that the whole country could watch together.

Part car wreck, part nightmare improv show, part hostage video, the Spicer briefings, for the top half of 2017, made C-SPAN as riveting as HBO. The plot was incoherent, the dialogue absurd. Spicer regularly reacted to straightforward questions by sputtering and stalling out like a used Toyota Camry. Still, no primetime offering delivered quite the tragicomedy that came in a Spicer afternoon showing, a real-time portrayal of a man simultaneously high on power and obviously in peril; you got the feeling POTUS might pink-slip the man live, at any time, if only for the ratings.

On January 22, just a day after his widely mocked and objectively wrong insistence that more people attended and watched Trump’s inauguration than any other in American history, Spicer clarified: “Ahh, yes. I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” It was only his second day on the job, but it may have been Spicer’s most influential briefing, for it was this bizarre assertion that objective truth was a matter of opinion that Kellyanne Conway was defending when she coined the now-infamous Orwellian turn of phrase “alternative facts.”

One of the most riveting Spicer performances came in his condemnation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons: “Someone as despicable as Hitler didn’t even sink to the, to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said. Given the immediate opportunity to clarify, he assured everyone that, obviously, he knew that Hitler used chemical weapons in “Holocaust centers.” (Spicer, presumably, meant to say “concentration camps.”) But, Spicer went on, this al-Assad deal was a completely different situation because Assad “went into towns, dropped them down onto innocent, into the middle of towns, it was brought — so, the use of it.”

Perhaps taking the whole “adversarial press” thing a bit further than necessary, Spicer was often hostile to the media he was charged to inform. In an effort to avoid facing journalists inquiring about the sudden firing of F.B.I. director James Comey, Spicer hid among the bushes on the White House grounds.

His unhinged displays of devotion to the president made him seem, at times, like a hopped-up stage mom on Toddlers and Tiaras, like when he insisted that Trump’s “covfefe” tweet was not a typo but a message only a select few could comprehend: “The president, and a small group of people, know exactly what he meant.”

Spicer wasn’t beholden to the norms that held back press secretaries of yore. Like words, for instance. Why only use the ones we already have? What is the alphabet if not a Scrabble set from God that the more innovative among us can futz with at will? Why say “press office” when you can say “fress office”? Is “lasterday” really so different from “yesterday”? Must we call our planet a “globe” instead of a “grobe”? A viewer may wonder, “What is ‘inimpulintation’?” To this, Spicer would counter, what isn’t inimpulination?

Like any good entertainment industrial complex, Spicer starred not only in his own series but inadvertently launched several successful spinoffs. Melissa McCarthy’s ingenious impression of Spicer on Saturday Night Live, which she debuted on February 4, can surely take some credit for SNL’s astonishingly high ratings this season. (Spicer, as ever, was good-humored about the portrayal: “It wasn’t funny. It was stupid, or silly, or malicious.”)

And Spicer’s foibles behind the podium — aided and abetted by Trump’s tweets, handshakes, bans, non-bans, and so on — provided endless fodder for late night hosts, boosting the once-floundering Stephen Colbert to the number one spot in late night (taking the place of hair-fluffer Jimmy Fallon) and giving the sometimes-struggling Trevor Noah some of his finest Daily Show material to date.

As any savvy television celebrity is wont to do, Spicer worried about overexposure. On April 7, in West Palm Beach, he instructed that cameras be turned off before the briefing began. And though he reportedly hoped to last a year in the job, Spicer barely made it past the halfway mark before bailing. He jumped ship after expressing to Trump his extreme disapproval of the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci to White House communications director. Trump went ahead and gave Scaramucci the job, asking Spicer to stay on as Scaramucci’s direct report. But Spicer wasn’t interested. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Spicer’s top deputy, will serve in his stead.

Trump, a former television star himself, seems to enjoy treating his presidency like a reality TV show the country can never turn off. The former Apprentice star (and current executive producer) was underwhelmed by Spicer’s performance. As Vanity Fair reported, “The president, it is said, watches his daily briefings like SportsCenter, barking critiques of Spicer’s performances at his television.”

Still, he managed to find some kind words to say about Spicer on the ex-press secretary’s way out of the briefing room. On Spicer’s last day, President Trump tweeted that Spicer was a “wonderful person who took tremendous abuse from the Fake News Media — but his future is bright!”

Farewell Sean Spicer, the breakout TV star of 2017 was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No Picture

Sean Spicer’s greatest hits

July 21, 2017 aurorax 0

Pour one out for the now-former White House Press Secretary.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer arrives for the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, June 26, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

By Annabel Thompson and Addy Baird.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday morning over a disagreement about President Donald Trump’s newly appointed communications director, New York financier Anthony Scaramucci. The news was first reported by The New York Times.

Spicer served as the Republican National Committee’s communications director from 2011 to 2017. His tenure as Trump’s press secretary was marked by general lying, wild spin, soft Holocaust denial, and complete disdain for doing his job.

Here are Spicer’s top five moments:

5. That time Spicer made up a terrorist attack in Atlanta.

“What do we say to the family that loses somebody over a terroristic (sic), to whether it’s Atlanta or San Bernardino or the Boston bomber?” Sean said during an ABC interview, arguing that the administration needed to implement Trump’s Muslim ban.

He repeated the “Atlanta, San Bernardino, Boston” list twice over the next few days.

Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, told The Daily Beast: “There has not been a successful jihadi terror attack in Atlanta.”

4. The time Spicer told CNN that corruption is A-OK as long as everyone knows about it.

Conflicts of interest arise when you’re sneaky about it,” Spicer said, when he was asked about the president’s conflicts of interest, including the fact that he still owns his company and is letting his sons run it. “If you tell everyone ‘here’s what’s going on, here’s the process, here are the people that are playing a role,’ that’s being transparent.”

3. That time Spicer literally hid ‘among’ the bushes to avoid reporters after Trump fired former FBI director James Comey.

And then he obviously complained to The Washington Post for saying he hid in the bushes, leading The Post to issue this correction:

“EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to more precisely describe White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s location late Tuesday night in the minutes before he briefed reporters. Spicer huddled with his staff among bushes near television sets on the White House grounds, not ‘in the bushes,’ as the story originally stated.”

2. That time Spicer had nice things to say about Hitler.

Spicer on Syria: “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons…”

 — @BraddJaffy

“You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said referring to a sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians. “I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said. “He brought them into, um, the Holocaust center — I understand that. But I’m saying in the way Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down into the middle of towns, it was brought — the use of it — and I appreciate the clarification, that was not the intent.”

1. That time Spicer shamelessly lied about Trump’s inauguration crowd.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe. Even the New York Times printed a photograph showing a misrepresentation of the crowd in the original Tweet in their paper, which showed the full extent of the support, depth in crowd, and intensity that existed,” Spicer said. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

It was not the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration. Period.

Some honorable mentions:

When Buzzfeed published an article about a comment by Reince Priebus and Spicer accused the site’s editor of an “attack on Christ.”

It’s sad that @BuzzFeedBen condones this attack on Christ on such a holy day for Christians. @BuzzFeed must apologize

 — @seanspicer

When he claimed that Trump was “just joking” when he encouraged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email.

When he attacked Nordstrom for pulling Ivanka Trump’s merchandise.

When he turned a press conference into an infomercial for Trump’s D.C. hotel.

When he told April Ryan to stop shaking her head.

Sean Spicer’s greatest hits was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No Picture

The White House is out of excuses for off-camera briefings

July 10, 2017 aurorax 0

The Trump administration has consistently shown disdain for a tradition of transparent government.

In this March 24, 2017, file photo, White House press secretary Sean Spicer gestures while speaking to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. The AP reported on June 9, 2017, that a story claiming Spicer told reporters President Donald Trump has the power to change the way English words are spelled is a hoax. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

The general public will not be able to watch the White House press briefing once again Monday. Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders will brief reporters Monday afternoon, where no cameras will be allowed, a move President Donald Trump’s press shop is more frequently making.

In the past, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said the off-camera briefings — where, at times, audio recording devices of any kind have been banned — are done because there are days when he decides “the president’s voice should be the one that speaks and iterates his priorities.”

Last month, for example, on a day when Trump gave a speech about veterans, Spicer said the off-camera briefing was because he would rather “let our president’s comments stand on the great things he’s doing on behalf of our veterans.”

But today, the president has an empty schedule.

Spicer has justified off-camera briefings by saying he wants the president’s voice to “carry the day.” Trump has no events scheduled.

 — @kaitlancollins

The White House press briefings have historically been an important opportunity for reporters to question representatives of the president about the news of the day, and Monday’s off-camera briefing comes in the wake of a number of controversies surrounding the president and his son Donald Trump, Jr.

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the campaign after the promise that she could provide damaging information on former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton.

Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen.

 — @DonaldJTrumpJr

On Monday, the administration will certainly face questions about the meeting, but unless you’re in the room, you won’t be able to watch it. And without any planned remarks from the president, the administration has no excuse for why that will be the case.

Banishing cameras from the briefing room is only one of a number of ways Spicer and the rest of Trump’s press shop have diminished the value of an important tradition. The briefings, when they happen, often last for only 15 minutes or so. In the administration’s earliest days, Spicer would often take questions for an hour or longer.

In 2009, during President Barack Obama’s first year in office, the briefings averaged 44 minutes and longer on average each consecutive year. During the Bush administration, the briefings clocked in around 30 minutes (though they averaged just 20 minutes during 2008).

Spicer and Sanders have both taken to ducking questions by simply saying they just don’t know the answer, frequently resorting to saying they haven’t discussed issues or controversies with the president. When he was asked whether taped conversations with former FBI Director James Comey exist, Spicer simply said, “I have no idea.” (The president later said they don’t.)

The briefings are, first and foremost, a chance for reporters to press the administration on questions of politics and policy. Spicer and his occasional stand-ins don’t know what questions they’ll have to field, which theoretically results in straighter answers to important questions. Broadcasting the briefings brings those theoretically straighter and more off-the-cuff answers to a larger audience, one of voters and constituents.

The White House has also found ways bring friendlier faces into the briefing room, introducing Skype questions from journalists outside the beltway, a significant majority of which have come from states what voted went for Trump in 2016.

Spicer also doesn’t have a problem, like much of the rest of the Trump administration, lying from the podium.

Kellyanne Conway struggles mightily to defend Trump Jr.’s lies — and her own

In the days following Trump’s inauguration, Spicer was adamant that Trump’s inauguration boasted a larger crowd than President Barack Obama’s first inauguration did in 2009. (It didn’t.)

The Trump administration has made it clear that it doesn’t value the press briefings, and today, with an empty schedule for the president, they’ve run out of excuses for keeping the briefings cloaked.

At least one person insists that the increasing number of off-camera, short briefings has nothing to do with concerns about the consequences of transparency. Asked last month why there have been more off-camera briefings, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon texted a journalist at The Atlantic, “Sean got fatter.”

The White House is out of excuses for off-camera briefings was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.