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

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - BOOKS -

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

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