Sean Spicer was no victim. He willingly served a president who asked him over and over again to lie. Rather than resist or quit, he repeatedly stood behind the podium, the face and voice of the White House, and lied. Ryan Lizza recounted:
Spicer defended Trump’s lie about how there were three million fraudulent votes in the 2016 election. He spent weeks using shifting stories to defend Trump’s lie about President Barack Obama wiretapping Trump Tower. In trying to explain the urgency of the attack on Syria, Spicer explained, “You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” …
He lied about the nature of the meeting at Trump Tower in June, 2016, between senior Trump-campaign officials and several people claiming to have information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. “There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for discussion about adoption,” Spicer claimed, bizarrely, because Donald Trump, Jr., had already admitted that the meeting was about Russian dirt on Clinton.
He insulted and demeaned the free press, continuing an unprecedented assault on objective sources of truth.
Melissa McCarthy, in her uproarious impersonation of Spicer (or more like an inhabiting of Spicer) on “Saturday Night Live,” arguably did more than any single human in peeling the bark off the dishonest press secretary. She exposed the peculiar mix of inarticulateness, obnoxiousness and duplicitousness that defined not only Spicer but also his boss.
For this, you’d expect that in his post-White House life, he would receive the scorn and ostracism of liberal elites, and certainly from the media, right? You’d be wrong.
He’s the toast of the towns, the elite ones. He’s a guest on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, yukking it up about, well, about lying. The Los Angeles Times recounted: “According to Spicer, journalists cross a line when ‘they go on Twitter, or on other social media, and start to perpetuate myths.’ ” Yes sirree, what a laugh riot. Still trying to discredit the press that dares to expose his and his ex-boss’s lies.
They should be teaching a course at Harvard on ethics and democracy just using Spicer’s tenure as an example of the threats to free societies when its leaders abscond with the truth and delegitimize the media. Well, not exactly.
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government has extended him a visiting fellowship. No, really. The Kennedy School (full disclosure: I have accepted an invitation to speak later this month) was recently shamed into revoking the visiting fellowship of Chelsea Manning, convicted for betraying her country and leaking classified material. (President Barack Obama, in one of the most controversial actions of his presidency, commuted her sentence.)
Reflecting the widespread outrage of the intelligence community over the Manning commutation, CIA Director Mike Pompeo withdrew from a scheduled appearance at Harvard, and ex-acting CIA director Michael Morell resigned as a senior fellow at Kennedy. (Pompeo cited the decision of “Harvard to place its stamp of approval upon [Manning’s] treasonous actions.”) The school’s dean, Douglas W. Elmendorf, withdrew the visiting fellowship invitation to Manning.
And yet the invitation to Spicer still stands. Elmendorf wrote about Manning:
I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations. In particular, I think we should weigh, for each potential visitor, what members of the Kennedy School community could learn from that person’s visit against the extent to which that person’s conduct fulfills the values of public service to which we aspire. This balance is not always easy to determine, and reasonable people can disagree about where to strike the balance for specific people. Any determination should start with the presumption that more speech is better than less.
Spicer is not in the same moral universe as Manning. Nevertheless, as with Manning, the fellowship for Spicer will be viewed as “honorific,” and hence a validation of his actions, which are defined almost entirely by the lies he told. Harvard absolutely should invite those who have served in this administration, although I grant you, the pickings are slim. But why not invite Sally Yates or James B. Comey? They’d surely have important lessons to impart about the obligations of public servants. Perhaps Elmendorf will reconsider his invitation to Spicer as well.
From Hollywood and Cambridge, Mass., Spicer has gotten not only a second chance but also a pat on the back after disgracing the institution of the presidency and waging war on a free press. And you wonder why our politics and culture have gone to seed?