There’s something about Sean Spicer that inspires pity. He’s had so much to deal with: The brutal “Saturday Night Live” skewerings. The fact that his boss, President Donald Trump, wouldn’t let him meet Pope Francis during the Vatican visit. That ill-fitting suit he started out in. And so, so much more.
But don’t give in to that emotion. To use current parlance, resist.
Because Spicer should have known from the very start that this would end badly. There was never any other possibility for a press secretary who was in the most unacceptable position for a White House press secretary. A classic CNN chyron last month got it just right: “President’s Spokesman Says He Can’t Speak For the President.”
That’s been a problem.
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Spicer — awkwardly combative, cringingly defensive and ever-so-easy to parody — started out with a world-class disaster.
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration - period - both in person and around the globe,” the former Republican National Committee official told reporters on Jan. 21, just one day after Trump took the oath. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave this claim its worst grade: Four Pinocchios. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote:
“This is an appalling performance by the new press secretary. He managed to make a series of false and misleading claims in service of a relatively minor issue. Presumably he was ordered to do this by Trump, who conjured up fantastic numbers in his own mind, but part of a flack’s job is to tell the boss when lies are necessary — and when they are not.
“Spicer earns Four Pinocchios, but seriously, we wish we could give five.”
The tone seems almost quaint. It was an era long ago — six full, insane months ago — when everyone still expected the White House press secretary to hew to reality.
Spin, everyone understands, is in the job description. But serving up outright falsehood as truth, with a side of outrage at not being believed? This was new.
Nevertheless, the president wanted it to be so and insisted that Spicer defend his claim vigorously.
This was the moment when Spicer should have hung it up and walked away. That would have been uncomfortable, and certainly unprecedented, but it would have had something important going for it: Integrity.
Instead Spicer toughed it out. This was poor decision-making for where could it lead?
The worst moment — and it’s a matter of debate because the competition is fierce for that distinction — may have come on the mid-May night that Spicer told the assembled members of the press to work in the dark.
“Just turn the lights off,” he pleaded, as he emerged from half-shadow to address, more or less, the president’s abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey. But that statement, which seemed an all-too-apt metaphor at that fractious moment, has become reality, too, as more and more, press briefings have been held off-camera, audio-only.
As the lights go out on Spicer’s unforgettably awful tenure, we can only wish - for his sake - that he had seen this moment coming and saved himself months of humiliation. Instead, likable as he is said to be, Spicer goes down in history as a joke: The president’s spokesman who couldn’t speak for the president.