Sean Spicer failed to find balance between integrity and loyalty as press secretary
Last Sunday, Sept. 17, to the curiosity and criticism of many, we witnessed former press secretary Sean Spicer appear during the opening monologue at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards. “Is there anyone who can say how big the audience is? Sean do you know?” asked host Stephen Colbert as he neared the end of his monologue. Spicer, on an all too familiar podium, wheeled in, jokingly declaring that “this will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period — both in person and around the world,” poking fun at himself and resembling Melissa McCarthy’s satirical portrayal of him on Saturday Night Live.
But, we ask, why did he appear on the Emmys? For what exact reason? To answer this question, we delve into Spicer's past.
On Jan. 21, 2017, all was tense in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. It was only the second day of the Trump presidency, and the White House press corps was caught off-guard by the surprise press briefing notice that was issued earlier that day. After keeping the press waiting for more than an hour, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, anxious yet determined, set foot in the room at 5:39 p.m., notes in hand. In his grim, grey suit and with a displeased countenance, Spicer briefly glanced at the journalists in front of him before commencing the first “unofficial” press briefing of the Trump presidency.
“Good evening. Thank you guys for coming,” Spicer began. “I know that our first official press briefing is going to be on Monday, but I wanted to give you a few updates on the President’s activities. But before I get to the news of the day, I think I’d like to discuss a little bit of the coverage of the last 24 hours.”
Following his seemingly congenial greetings, Spicer went on a tirade of arguments and accusations that set the tone of the Trump administration’s hostility towards the press for the many months to come. “Some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting… a reporter falsely tweeted out that the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office,” announced Spicer.
On a more controversial note, Spicer maintained that the crowd at President Trump’s inauguration “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe,” in reference to photographs comparing Trump’s inauguration crowd with Obama’s. He concluded his briefing by berating the press, characterizing them as “shameful,” “dishonest,” and reprehensible for “sowing division about tweets and false narratives.” Spicer left the briefing room at 5:44 p.m. He took no questions.
Minutes after Spicer’s appearance, social media erupted with criticism and shock. “Jaw meet floor,” tweeted Glenn Thrush, White House correspondent for The New York Times. Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary under President George W. Bush, commented that “this [briefing] is a statement you’re told to make by the President. And you know the President is watching.”
In the months following, however, it became clear that the briefing on Jan. 21 was not an anomaly. From mistakenly stating that Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” to claiming that “sometimes we can disagree with the facts” to engaging in tense exchanges with April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, over topics regarding alleged collusion with Russia, Spicer’s tenure was characterized by a tumultuous relationship with the press corps and plagued with controversy.
At long last, on July 21, after strong disagreement with the President regarding the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, Sean Spicer resigned from his role as press secretary.
Unexpectedly, in the past two weeks — less than two months since his resignation — Spicer has reemerged through talk shows, interviews, and, as mentioned previously, the Emmys.
“I don’t think it was the best start, no,” Spicer replied, chuckling, in response to Jimmy Kimmel’s question regarding his first press briefing. “Your job as press secretary is to represent the President’s voice and to make sure that you are articulating what he believes… whether you agree or not isn’t your job,” he added.
As for the Emmys, Spicer’s cameo prompted mixed reactions from celebrities and the public. “Hoping to forget politics for one night and bask in other people’s glory at the #Netflix #Emmys party,” posted actor Jason Isaacs on Instagram. “[He] has the aura of a giant festering abscess. Strange, since he was so charismatic at the (elevated) podium.”
Now, what is clear from the recent television circuit is that Spicer is on a campaign to rebrand his tainted image. It is true that his role as press secretary under President Trump was a tough occupation, indeed. As Spicer mentioned to Kimmel, his job was not to agree or disagree, but to represent the president’s stance and voice in the public domain. However, as compulsory as it may seem, Spicer played an instrumental role in spreading inaccurate claims from the White House, and his conscious decision to continue his job was purely voluntary.
Public servants, in this sense, have an additional layer of complexity to their administrative tasks. As citizens themselves, government officials must balance their duties and responsibilities with respect to integrity and honesty, most notably when interacting with the public. In essence, it is a clash of values that must be balanced: while it is important to be efficient and hard-working, public servants ought to be especially critical and conscientious of the orders that they receive. Rejecting facts and actively defending a presidency that upholds falsehoods to advance its political agenda is an unequivocal example of imbalance in this dichotomy.
Though Spicer has appeared to be apologetic in his latest interviews, we simply cannot forget the integral role he played at the outset of the Trump administration. It is interesting, nonetheless, to observe Spicer’s more authentic personality. For some of us, through this new-found side to the former press secretary, we feel compassionate towards Spicer and the adversities he weathered.
“A certain part of me felt sorry for him,” Kimmel said on his show, the day after the Emmys. Colbert, the guest on the show at the time, immediately replied, “Really? Because, he wasn’t apologizing… He wants to be forgiven, but he won’t regret anything he did.”