Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The 30th White House Press Secretary: When Spinning Spun Out of Control

It's time to Break It Down!

For much of our history as a nation, the first 140 years to be precise, there was no formal position as White House Press Secretary (WHPS). However, over the past 88 years, 12 Administrations, and 15 Presidents, we have had 30 people, and counting, serve in that capacity, plus at least two people who served as Acting, or De Facto in the job. Twenty-three of those, twenty-five if you count the interims, served during my lifetime. One, James Hagerty, who held the position during the entire Eisenhower administration, stands out for having had the longest tenure on record (8 years, or two entire Presidential terms).

The WHPS is a senior White House official whose principal job is to serve in the role of spokesperson for the executive branch of the United States government administration, particularly for the President, senior executives, and for policies articulated by the administration. Key responsibilities of the office include collecting information on matters taking place within the administration, and articulating the administration’s reactions to events and developments worldwide. The WHPS regularly interacts with the media, typically including daily briefings with the White House press corps.

The individual occupying the position serves by the appointment and at the pleasure of the President. This position does not require the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. Despite this distinction, the position is considered a very prominent post.


Chart Listing White House Press Secretaries

#
Officeholder
Term start
Term end
President

1
March 4, 1929
March 16, 1931

2
March 16, 1931
March 4, 1933

3
March 4, 1933
March 29, 1945

4
March 29, 1945
May 15, 1945
5
May 15, 1945
December 5, 1950


Acting
December 5, 1950
December 18, 1950

6
December 5, 1950
September 18, 1952

7
September 18, 1952
January 20, 1953

8
January 20, 1953
January 20, 1961

9
January 20, 1961
March 19, 1964


10
March 19, 1964
July 8, 1965

11
July 8, 1965
February 1, 1967

12
February 1, 1967
January 20, 1969

13
January 20, 1969
August 9, 1974

14
August 9, 1974
September 9, 1974

15
September 9, 1974
January 20, 1977

16
January 20, 1977
January 20, 1981

17
January 20, 1981
March 30, 1981/
January 20, 1989


Acting
March 30, 1981
February 1, 1987

18
Acting: 1987–1989
February 1, 1987
January 20, 1993


De facto
January 20, 1993
June 7, 1993

19
January 20, 1993
December 22, 1994

20
December 22, 1994
August 4, 1998

21
August 4, 1998
September 29, 2000

22
September 30, 2000
January 20, 2001

23
January 20, 2001
July 15, 2003

24
July 15, 2003
May 10, 2006

25
May 10, 2006
September 14, 2007

26
September 14, 2007
January 20, 2009

27
January 20, 2009
February 11, 2011

28
February 11, 2011
June 20, 2014

29
June 20, 2014
January 20, 2017

30
January 20, 2017
Present




It goes without question, the WHPS is, and has always been, a challenging job. In contemporary parlance, the party in question must be comfortable and adept at spinning. Surely, he or she must do so on a daily basis. Spinning is an art.  Dee Dee Myers, Bill Clinton’s first WHPS (he had four), said of the practice:

“Spinning is not lying, but rather marshaling the facts in service of an argument.”

She is not the only practitioner to address the subject. Larry Speakes, who held the position under Ronald Reagan, framed it thusly:

“Spinning aims to minimize the damage by surrounding bad facts with context and good facts.”

That’s all well and good, but at some point, one almost has to resort to using the tactic to describe it effectively. The Late Tony Snow, who performed the function under President George W. Bush, said at one point:

“If it got to the point where I thought it would cost me my credibility, I would have no choice but to walk away.”

That was a decade or more ago; might as well be calculated in light-years. That was pre-Obama. Don’t underestimate the importance of that timeline marker. Virtually everything that highlights the bright line of demarcation between the ideological poles was heightened and super-sensitized after the 2008 Election. The opposition slowly, surely, and systematically turned off all filters over the course of the Obama Administration. Fast forward to today, and we see that fake news is a thing, one that has been normalized, no less, and the concept of alternative facts has been invented. Both concepts seem to have permeated the day-to-day communications strategy of the current administration.

That leads us to the here and now. There has been a dizzying song and dance about the propensity, and arguably the wisdom of either taking the leader of this administration and of the free world, literally, but not seriously, or seriously, but not literally. I personally don’t think that nonsense even qualifies as spin. Rather, it is both seriously and literally bullshizzle! But that’s just me. (Or is it?)

Yesterday marked Day 60 of the current President’s first term. In those two months it’s perfectly fair to say, no matter what the WHPSs salary is, he underpaid. He has unquestionably had to clean up more crap than a circus attendant. Laying Mr. Snow’s perspective to the side, I’ve seen no indication the incumbent has given any thought to walking away. Chances are, he’ll be asked to leave before he decides to do so.

Two months have been more than enough time for questions of credibility to arise. In fact, a number of sources have suggested that Mr. Spicer has pushed the envelope hard enough and often enough that reasonable people are within bounds to question whether this WHPS has fractured, ruptured, or flat out obliterated even the thinnest strain of credibility. No doubt some would suggest, and I concur, that he has not one scintilla (of credibility) remaining.

Here is an abbreviated list of (10) assertions Sean Spicer, in his role as Press Secretary, has made that numerous fact checking organizations found to be patently false allegations, including:

·      The 2016 Presidential Inauguration crowd size was the biggest ever
·      14% of the 2008 Presidential Election voters were non citizens
·      Paul Manafort played a very limited role in the campaign for a very limited time
·      Philip Bilden is 100% committed to becoming Naval Secretary (after CBS reported he would withdraw, which subsequent to Spicer’s comment, he did)
·      Obama used the British to tape Trump (After American Intelligence agencies said there was no evidence American Intelligence Agencies had done so), sparking an international incident. After that claim was also debunked, Spicer said it was silly to equate quoting a news story to support for that story.
·      45 won more Electoral votes than any Republican since Reagan
·      CNN retracted statements questioning Kellyanne Conway’s Credibility
·      There was no concern expressed about President Obama’s criticism of the Supreme Court
·      The ban (which supposedly is not a ban) was always about specific countries, rather than about Muslims (though throughout the campaign, we were promised a Muslim Ban)
·      The Jobs Reports were fake, but they are real now

Since most of the items above are downright laughable, I will not spend any extra time relating the details or timelines that refute the lunacy. I intentionally omitted the item that kicked off the most recent kerfuffle, though I included a related incident. Saturday before last, Mr. Spicer’s boss rendered a tweet accusing President Obama of wiretapping him (at Trump Tower). While the FBI and the other Intelligence Agencies have dismissed this as something that simply didn’t happen, Mr. Spicer repeatedly indicated that his bossed “believed” it happened. Considering his boss also believed (until mid-September 2016) President Obama was not American, and that he saw thousands of Muslims cheering in Jersey City in the wake of 9/11, there is obviously no accounting for what he “believes.” Having said that, I must pivot back to my opening premise, The 30th WhiteHouse Press Secretary: When Spinning Spun Out of Control!”

I’m done; holla back!

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