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
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.