There’s been a lot of criticism and mocking of Press Secretary Sean Spicer in the media recently. I’d like to defend him.
Before becoming President Donald Trump’s press secretary, he was the communications director of the Republican National Committee (RNC), where he brought the party into the media age, created an in-house TV production team and a rapid response team for terror attacks. He was given a role as chief strategist within the RNC and, during the primaries, was highly critical of Trump.
By all accounts, Spicer has done his job well, is incredibly competent, and is a completely rational human being.
But the press secretary’s job is to represent the president to the media. He does not have the independence of Trump’s other cabinet members to contradict the president, as Vice President Mike Pence or Defense Secretary James Mattis can. The press secretary must defend the president at all costs and can only explain the president’s plans to the best of his capabilities.
Spicer is a highly capable communications expert with an incredible resume and years of practice. But he now finds himself working for a man who is at best incompetent and at worst completely unhinged.
What more can he do?
When Trump claims millions of people attended his inauguration, Spicer has no choice but to grit his teeth and agree.
When the ridiculous things he is forced to say are immediately fact-checked by both sides of the aisle, he has no choice but to blame “fake news.”
There is literally nothing Spicer can do that finds him in anything but a lose-lose situation. He can throw Trump under the bus, in which case his presidency would move one step closer toward crumbling, and any career momentum of his own would disappear. Or he can continue to completely discredit himself in order to keep this job, knowing he will be treated as an utter joke.
On top of these unfortunate choices, there is the issue of the borderline unprecedented bipartisan condemnation. It used to be that democrats could more or less rely on CNN, and republicans on Fox, for a fair shake. Yes, Obama whined about Fox News, as Bush whined about CNN, but neither Bush nor Obama questioned the actual integrity of either organization — let alone the entire American free press.
As poorly as Spicer’s handling of the job may seem, he has been left to single-handedly deal with the vocation of the media in an era where the president himself seeks to destroy it. For what is possibly the first time in U.S. history, republican reporters are defending democratic media outlets. A president is claiming that the free press is the enemy of Americans, relying instead on imagined statistics and foreign propaganda.
For as much as we complain about partisanship in media, both sides have finally united in defense of their profession. That combined weight has fallen upon Spicer’s embattled shoulders.
With what Spicer has been given, he’s doing all he can do.
His actions are not honorable. They are not particularly clever. I would even argue that they are morally reprehensible. But, professionally speaking, Spicer is doing what little he can to keep his head above water.
When you see Spicer on television, you are looking into the soul of a broken man: a man who has had to throw out years of experience and abandon textbook knowledge, all in the direction of a massive career move.
He is an experienced professional being told to abandon his expertise by someone whom he must defend. He is a general told to send his soldiers off a cliff. He is a babysitter charged with taking care of a child prone to throwing himself down the stairs.
So when you see Sean Spicer attacking the media or defending some stupid decision, do not criticize him; pity him.