A memoir that reeks of desperation
The only insight in Sean Spicer’s dull and fawning account of his time in the White House is that he wants a new job, says HARRIET ALEXANDER
Poor Sean Spicer. The man who went from dressing as the White House Easter bunny to presiding over the press briefings has written a book, and my word, is it disappointing. Entitled The Briefing, it is Spicer’s attempt to clear his name. His first press briefing, when he berated the bemused reporters for downplaying the size of President Trump’s inauguration crowd, set the tone for his seven-month tenure at the White House. At times hostile, at times hilarious, his briefings got higher ratings than the actual soap operas airing at the same time. So how has he managed to make his account of it so dull?
For starters, Spicer is a man on a mission: to secure himself another job in politics. So determined is he to find future employment that he is unable to say a bad word about any of the lunatics surrounding him at the time — except for Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, whom he calls snakey and “unwaveringly wavering”, and Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, painted as the ultimate political swamp monster. But they are evidently people he feels are safe to trash.
Trump, on the other hand, is simply misunderstood. Spicer is unable, or unwilling, to grasp any of the criticism Biteback, hardback, 256 pages, €28 levelled at his former boss, with the furthest he comes being a description of him as “mercurial”, and as someone with a Twitter habit which can be “a double-edged sword”. “His high-wire act is one that few could ever follow,” Spicer writes. “He is a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow.”
Donald Trump — a man who has been repeatedly taken to court for failing to pay his contractors — is praised as a man of the people, who cares deeply about his most junior employee.
“Donald Trump may not quote scripture like an evangelical, but I know he is a man of Christian instincts and feeling,” Spicer says.
The Access Hollywood tape, where Trump infamously spoke his “grab ‘em by the pussy” lines, is dismissed in a few paragraphs as an example of the then-candidate’s excellent crisis-management skills.
“As he often does, Trump moved forward when any other candidate would have been left for dead.” Even the US president’s taste is impeccable. “Donald Trump gets a lot of ribbing in the press for the over-thetop decor of his homes, but I found the interior of his jet to be tastefully appointed,” he notes.
What’s worse, Spicer evidently thinks very highly of himself — and thinks his talents should be more respected. The role of a press secretary is variously described as that of a fighter pilot, a champion boxer, a tightrope artist and a quarterback — the brains behind an American Football team. Does Spicer really think he is Maverick?
He details, CV-like, his extensive experience. I’m not sure who exactly he thinks will be interested to know about his rise from Rhode Island schoolboy to Republican operative, through internships and networking with long-forgotten Republican figures, although I did find it remarkable that he has sold himself as a communications specialist without ever having worked in a newsroom. And do we really need to know that when he first met his wife Rebecca, he put black pepper in her food, not knowing that she hated it?
In fact, the first half of the book can be skipped altogether. And the interesting part, when it comes, is so uninteresting.
Trump’s disastrous handling of the Muslim travel ban is glossed over; the firing of James Comey is detailed only to describe his anger at being reported as giving press briefings “hiding in the bushes”. “I was on the path the entire time,” he moans. The turmoil, he seems to think, is entirely invented by the media.
Perhaps the only real insight he offers is when talking about the self-serving White House press corps — how outraged they were when he decided to break from the established order of calling for questions, and how they increasingly see Twitter as a tool for raising their own profile.
“Today’s media is obsessed with palace intrigue instead of issues of substance, prioritising the number of clicks, viewers, and subscriptions. Twitter is not glue. It is a solvent. It is breaking us down and breaking us apart. (And yes, I see the irony of Donald Trump’s former press secretary making this observation.)”
He fails to see that Trump is his own worst enemy. If the president himself could focus on the issues, rather than engaging in wild Twitter conspiracy theories and rants, then perhaps the press would follow his lead? But no. “Pity the press secretary who broaches, ever so gently, such criticisms of the media,” he whines. “Those who do will immediately be told that they are a threat to the First Amendment.”
Trump, whose ire he is so evidently keen to avoid, is pleased with the tome, tweeting: “It is a story told with both heart and knowledge. Really good, go get it!”
Spicer certainly needs all the support he can get. Since leaving the White House, he has served as an occasional unpaid pundit for Fox News and tried to launch a cable chat show — which no network has bought. Tentatively named Sean Spicer’s Common Ground, it would see him meet “some of the most interesting and thoughtful public figures for a drink and some lite conversation at a local pub or café,” according to the pitch.
Like everything to do with Sean Spicer, it reeks of desperation.
‘His high-wire act is one that few could ever follow,’ Spicer writes of his former boss. ‘He is a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow’
Big reunion: Spicer poses next to waxworks of President Trump and wife Melania
MEMOIR The Briefing Sean Spicer