Sean Spicer freelanced on his first full day as White House press secretary. On Jan. 21, 2017, newly installed President Trump espied unflattering news about the size of his inaugural crowd. He wanted to set the record straight. In a passage from Spicer’s about-to-be-released book, “The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President,” Spicer writes about Trump’s sense of alarm that day: “‘Sean, have you seen the news?’ The president was clear: this needed to be addressed – now … I assumed that was the approach the president would want to see again: strong, aggressive, no questions. I was wrong.”
What happened next is familiar Trump history. In an impromptu session in the White House briefing room, Spicer stood before reporters in an ill-fitting suit and ranted for about five minutes about coverage of the Trump White House — or, roughly 30 hours of tweeting, writing and broadcasting. He was also mad about an incorrect report that a bust of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office; it hadn’t been.
And then there was the large matter of the not-so-large inaugural crowd. Establishing a tone of bumptious mendacity for the entire White House, Spicer said things like, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”
Per his own plan, Spicer stormed away from the podium, leaving his falsehoods dangling there for fact checkers, who found their weekend in ruins. And despite Spicer’s expectations, his boss wasn’t terribly pleased with how he handled the media. From the book, which was obtained by the Guardian:
I went back to my office, expecting an ‘attaboy’ from the president; instead Reince [Priebus] was waiting for me and said the president wasn’t happy at all with how I had performed. He didn’t like my not taking questions. He thought I was hung up on the wrong issues. He wanted to know why I hadn’t run my statement by him. Minutes later, the president himself called, and he was not pleased. And I started to wonder if my first day would be my last …
I had made a bad first impression, and looking back, that was the beginning of the end.
These are the perils of working for a madman. In this instance, after all, Spicer appeared to be taking cues from his boss: Be mean to the media. It was a successful route for Trump, after all, to seizing the presidency. Over the course of the campaign, Trump had slandered the media over and over and over, he maligned the likes of Megyn Kelly and others when he received rough treatment, and he had recently begun spraying “fake news” claims at outlets such as CNN. Keep the hostility going, right?
Apparently not. After his scolding, Spicer returned to work the next week and took questions — which got him into just as much trouble. Over the coming months, he spewed falsehoods, stumbled over his words, insisted that Trump’s tweets spoke for themselves (over and over) and, in general, mumbled his way out of a job.
Perhaps the president never appreciated that Spicer, a loyal deputy, was willing to take Trump’s own idiocies to new extremes. What an ungrateful man.