For fans of “Firefly” – all you brown coats out there – there’s a wonderful quote attributed to Adam Baldwin’s character. “If you can’t do something smart, then do something right.”
I think of that quote from time to time when I’m at the White House – mostly to relieve intense boredom or justify my existence – take your pick.
I think of it now because of the swirling rumors about the man who leads the daily news briefings inside the White House.
During the last four months I’ve grown to know Sean Spicer – and while we haven’t always agreed with each other in the White House press room, he’s never taken anything I’ve said or done personally and I’ve never taken any of his rebukes personally.
Spicer, as the president’s press secretary, visits with the members of the media on a nearly daily basis to update us, answer questions and speak for President Donald Trump.
Everyone in the White House press room knows why he’s there – and as Sam Donaldson used to say there’s nothing illegal or even immoral in having someone to “put their best foot forward, emphasize their successes, minimize or hide their blunders . . . and generally use the press to the extent they can as a tool for governing and retaining power.”
Spicer, along with every other presidential surrogate in the Trump administration has tried to live by the Larry Speakes creed: “Don’t tell us how to stage the news and we won’t tell you how to cover it.”
Now rumors are swirling about Spicer - a Catholic boy who brought his kids down to the White House for Easter, started a “bring your child to work” day so members of the press and his staff could have their children enjoy the splendor of the White House - that he will soon be gone.
Spicer has democratized the press briefings and routinely calls on people not in the front row. He has instituted a “Skype” component to the press briefings which brings people from outside the Beltway into the press room. In an era where presidents are not open to being cross-examined by the press (a trend that began with Ronald Reagan) – Spicer has helped make the presidency more transparent by bringing in a host of senior administration officials to answer questions from the press – a move that has been cheered by many reporters.
True, there have been times of contentiousness in the press room. Sometimes Spicer seems uncomfortable in his own skin. Saturday Night Live torched him on several occasions.
Spicer faced his toughest criticism when he mispronounced the Syrian leader’s name and compared him to Hitler. He thinks the press is often trying to play “gotcha” and also believes there’s an inherent liberal bias among reporters.
While I disagree with those sentiments, I can tell you he diffused the Hitler controversy by doing something I've never seen any president do – like an adult he admitted he made a mistake and like a man he moved on.
Anyone who can sit on national television and candidly admit he’s human and made a mistake is deserving of my respect – and he has it.
Those who’ve known him a while say he’s always wanted the job he currently holds – thus proving once again you should be careful for what you wish.
It’s a tough job. The president has mulled the prospect of ending daily press briefings because his surrogates can’t accurately quote him. On this he’s right, but it’s the president himself who should shoulder some of the blame.
Time and again I’ve watched every administration official that has stepped up to the podium get undercut by the president.
Spicer is no exception – and in fact was the first example.
When your first act as a press secretary is to go up on stage and defend the size of your boss’s inauguration crowd against photographic evidence to the contrary – you’ve got no place to go but up.
I’ve often wondered how Spicer can muster the energy to approach the podium – and have actually seen him with very little energy up there trying very hard to do one of the most difficult jobs in the country.
Rather than derision, he’s earned my respect for his many actions – and while I disagree with him on issues, I will not speak ill of him or urge his replacement.
I don’t know if he’s the embodiment of the “Firefly” quote or if I am – but my Jesuit upbringing forces me to say the one thing I believe is right – of all of those I’ve met in the current administration – Sean Spicer is one of the best in it.
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