Sean Spicer had another awkward moment at Friday's media briefing at Mar-a-Lago, and it was a completely avoidable one.
The White House staff let broadcast cameras set up in a makeshift briefing room at President Trump's Florida estate on Friday, expecting a briefing to start soon. And, as they do most weekdays, television networks teased the upcoming briefing, with on-screen text graphics or small video boxes showing the empty lectern ahead of Spicer's arrival.
But almost as soon as he arrived at the lectern, Spicer demanded the cameras be turned off.
“Off,” he said, making a “cutoff” sign with his hands.
“We've already been showing the podium on our air!” one journalist complained, out of the view of cameras.
“What would you like to do with this camera? This is the pool cam,” said another journalist, pointing out that his camera feed was going not just to his network but to a wide list of pool subscribers, including The Washington Post. (The pool camera at Friday's briefing was operated by CNN, per broadcast pool reports.)
“Off. Everything's off,” Spicer insisted.
So when the cameras quickly panned away, or turned off entirely, it was live on national television. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer declared it an “awkward” moment.
It was especially awkward on a day that journalists had a lot of questions about breaking news stories. Trump's decision to launch missiles at a Syrian air force base, his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice dominated the news cycle. Trump declined to comment on the missile strike when asked about it by journalists at his bilateral meeting with Xi earlier in the day.
Off-camera briefings aren't anything new for the White House. Trump's administration — as many previous administrations have done — routinely holds off-camera briefings for journalists about specific policy topics and even went a full week without an on-camera briefing at the beginning of March.
But changing the format of a briefing after arriving at the lectern, having escorted cameras into the room just minutes earlier, is an awkward look and raises the question: Why? What questions is Spicer willing to answer for print attribution but not on-camera? Wouldn't it have been easier to schedule the briefing as an off-camera event in the first place?
It's not a huge gaffe for Spicer or the White House. But it is one more moment that makes the administration look combative with journalists and disorganized at its own events. And it was completely avoidable.