Re­ac­tion to Spicer gaffe shows lim­its of out­rage


SEAN SPICER, prob­a­bly the only White House press sec­re­tary you or I have ever heard of (CJ Cregg in The West Wing does not count) is no stranger to gaffes, but last week he some­how man­aged to out-Spicer him­self. In a press brief­ing given shortly be­fore Seder night, he sug­gested Hitler was less of a threat than Syria’s Bashar Al-As­sad and that the Nazis never used chem­i­cal weapons against “their own peo­ple”. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Mr Spicer (who also re­ferred to con­cen­tra­tion camps as “Holo­caust cen­tres”) apol­o­gised within hours, say­ing his com­ments were “in­ex­cus­able and rep­re­hen­si­ble”.

But what caught the eye was not so much the clanger it­self or the swift­ness of the apol­ogy but the strength of lan­guage con­demn­ing Mr Spicer, par­tic­u­larly from the Anne Frank Cen­ter for Mu­tual Re­spect.

They ac­cused him of en­gag­ing in “Holo­caust de­nial, the most of­fen­sive form of fake news imag­in­able” and de­manded that “Pres­i­dent Trump must fire him at once”.

That level of response can be summed up in one word: “Out­rage”. And out­rage seems to be the strat­egy of choice in a lot of mod­ern po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, par­tic­u­larly in the States. Com­pare the Anne Frank Cen­tre re­ac­tion to the UK com­mu­nity re­sponses over Ken Liv­ing­stone, who claimed that the Nazis col­lab­o­rated with Zion­ists. Twelve months on, he has not apol­o­gised and is still cer­tain that the world is wrong and he is right.

Nev­er­the­less, if you look at most of the state­ments from com­mu­nity groups, they are strongly worded and full of con­dem­na­tion but I can­not find one that di­rectly, specif­i­cally, de­manded that the Labour party ex­pel him in the same way that the Anne Frank Cen­tre called for Mr Spicer’s dis­missal. The mes­sage is the same, but the tone is in an­other post­code.

So why such a high level of out­rage in the States, but not here? Is it be­cause in the US, (par­tic­u­larly in the age of so­called “Trumprage”) pub­lic fig­ures are en­cour­aged to shoot from the hip, say what they think and have a sin­gle-minded point of view

Sorry: Spicer that can be shared in­stantly on so­cial me­dia?

Mer­ci­fully, there ap­pears to be some push-back against out­rage. Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton, co-founder of Huff­in­g­ton Post, pub­licly cau­tioned against it as a cam­paign­ing tac­tic, and Ryan Hol­i­day, au­thor of Trust me I’m Ly­ing, a best-seller ex­am­in­ing how blogs and so­cial me­dia drives the news, says you should not fight out­rage with out­rage but in­stead “re­gain the moral high ground by say­ing that you ab­so­lutely re­spect (your op­po­nents’) right to free speech… and lis­ten and talk to them.”

I like this ap­par­ent back­lash against out­rage and the favour­ing of a more bal­anced ap­proach. In par­tic­u­lar, I thought the response of the An­tiDefama­tion League in Amer­ica to Mr Spicer’s com­ments was clever, cre­ative and might ac­tu­ally get some­thing done. Rather than call for his head, they of­fered to hold a Holo­caust ed­u­ca­tion class for Spicer at the White House. A PR stunt per­haps but surely more will be achieved by con­struc­tive di­a­logue, and not

just out­rage?

David Fraser runs Ready10, a Lon­don PR agency

THE CHIEF ex­ec­u­tive of Face­book, Sh­eryl Sand­berg, has paid deep trib­ute to the com­pany’s founder, Mark Zucker­berg, for help­ing her cope with the sud­den death of her hus­band in 2015.

Ms Sand­berg’s hus­band, David Gold­berg, col­lapsed and died sud­denly while ex­er­cis­ing at a re­sort in Mex­ico where the cou­ple were hol­i­day­ing.

Though they were both high-pow­ered, new-me­dia busi­ness lead­ers — Mr Gold­berg had been the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the com­pany Sur­vey Mon­key — they were also a fa­mously de­voted and tra­di­tional Jewish cou­ple. To mark the shloshim, or 30th day of mourn­ing after his death, Ms Sand­berg wrote a long post on Face­book which drew thou­sands of re­sponses from around the world.

Now — to­gether with psy­chol­o­gist Adam Grant — she has de­vel­oped her Face­book essay into a new book, Op­tion B, in which she ex­plores how to deal with grief.

In an in­ter­view with the Guardian last week­end, Ms Sand­berg said that Mr Zucker­berg “is why I’m walk­ing. Most of what [he and his wife Priscilla] did is not even in the book, be­cause they did so much. When I felt so over­whelmed and so iso­lated and just needed to cry, I would grab him into his con­fer­ence room and he would just sit there with me and be like, ‘we’re go­ing to get through this and we want to get through it with you.’ He did it over and over.”

She also said that Mr Zucker­berg helped her to re­gain her self-con­fi­dence after she be­gan sec­ond guess­ing her own de­ci­sions.


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