A Spokesperson For The Ages

Normally, you would think that a public official would pick a spokesperson based on that person’s ability to shape and convey positive and persuasive messages that advanced the public official’s agenda.  And when the “public official” in question is the President of the United States, whose every move is put under a microscope, you would think the careful messaging requirement would be even more essential.

So how in the world did Sean Spicer end up as the White House press secretary?

trumpSpicer’s comment yesterday that suggested that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was in some ways worse than Adolf Hitler, because “You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” is unforgivably ignorant — because, of course, Hitler did use poison gas to kill millions of Jews during the Holocaust.  Children are taught that fact during their world history classes, and the national Holocaust Museum is only a mile or so away from the White House.  How can you be the press secretary for the President of the United States and not be aware of the fact of Hitler’s poison gas executions and avoid making a comment that suggests that you are a know-nothing fool?

Spicer later apologized, but the entire incident raises questions about Spicer and his staff.  Spicer’s abrasive style clearly rubs the press the wrong way, and it has been hilariously lampooned by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live.  There’s nothing wrong with having a combative press secretary if that is the President’s way of sending a message to the media, although Spicer often seems over the top for my tastes.  But you can’t have a press secretary whose behavior and comments make him the story that distracts from, and undercuts, the President’s goals.  Don’t Spicer and his staff prepare for his press conferences, and carefully consider the arguments he is going to present before he goes before the country and makes them?  If so, how could his staff not recognize the fundamental, underlying idiocy of his comparison of Assad and Hitler?  And if they don’t vet his arguments, and Spicer just “wings it,” then he’s an incompetent whose instincts are obviously ill-suited for the job, and it’s just a matter of time before he makes another thoughtless and stupid comment that sets off another firestorm or provokes an unintended international incident.

Either way, Spicer should be replaced as press secretary.  President Trump might like his two-fisted way of dealing with the press that Trump seems to hold in contempt, but he’s got to realize that Spicer is a huge liability who is just going to step into it again, and again, and again, and make the Trump Administration as a whole look like amateur hour.   That’s not the kind of messaging you want from your press secretary.

Almost The Toughest Job In Town

President Obama announced today that Jay Carney is resigning as his press secretary.  Carney had been press secretary for three years.  He’ll be replaced in the position by the appropriately named Josh Earnest.

Carney was the Washington bureau chief for Time magazine before he took the press secretary job, but apparently he had flackery in his blood:  he worked as communications director for Vice President Biden during the first two years of the Obama Administration.

I’m not sure why anyone would want to be the press secretary for any President.  It’s a thankless and often humiliating job.  On most days, you’re droning out agenda items, hoping to get the press corps interested in the latest boring policy initiative or presidential speech.  When crises hit, or scandals erupt, you’re the point person who needs to go out and face the questioning so the President doesn’t have to.  In those instances everyone knows that you’re spinning the news like crazy to try to make your boss look good.  Your credibility ends up taking a licking, and often you end up looking like an idiot in exchanges with the press that then get posted on YouTube.

I suppose the lure of being an insider is part of the attraction, but I’d like to think that actual journalists have too much self-respect to cross over to the other side and put their personal credibility on the line for a politician.