Magazine article The Spectator

In Praise of Sean Spicer

Magazine article The Spectator

In Praise of Sean Spicer

Article excerpt

At last, someone is taking on the pompous White House hacks

Washington, DC

I hate to admit it, but I think I'm falling in love with Sean Spicer. No doubt Donald Trump's stocky, gum-chewing, sartorially challenged press secretary will strike many readers as an unlikely object of passion. But it's hard not to get red-hot for a man capable of inspiring so much outrage among the most boring, self-important people in America.

As press secretary, Spicer's only real job is to run the President's daily press briefing, one of those bizarre, quasi-official American institutions -- like the State of the Union address or the Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn -- whose utility no one ever seems to question. It's the closest thing we have to Prime Minister's Questions, except that instead of, say, Bernie Sanders needling the commander-in-chief about unemployment figures or heath care, it's a bunch of hacks talking to a PR man. During Obama's time in office, the briefing always reminded me of that old cartoon where the wolf and the sheepdog enjoy a quiet lunch together -- people who go to the same parties and pretend to cry at one another's funerals asking niggling questions and feigning outrage over non-controversies.

For those of us who were allergic to school, even the format of the briefing is insufferable: bodies arranged in rows with hands raised, all of them having spasmodic muscular contractions at the idea of being given the opportunity to make some show-offy pseudo-point. The only difference is that there are no jocks, class clowns or even bullies: everyone is a nerd.

Like so much else in Washington, the briefing's character has been altered, I hope forever, by Trump. What was once a boring tickle-fest for white liberals is now a kind of orgy of pouting and breathless self-aggrandisement. For the mainstream press, Spicer's first offence was to install screens allowing him to take questions from reporters across the country: an agreeably egalitarian sop to the hard-working journos of places such as Fall River, Massachusetts. Even worse has been his lack of deference to national newspapers and cable TV channels in favour of Breitbart, LifeSiteNews and other dubious right-wing outlets. I suppose it's all very dismaying if you're the sort of person who thinks that asking whether a thrice-married serial philanderer who has appeared in a Playboy video opposes legalised contraception is a vital contribution to our national discourse.

As enjoyable as it is to watch Spicer work on television, the briefings are like Woodstock: you have to be there to get the full effect. The first thing you notice is that the briefing room itself, which used to be an indoor swimming pool before it was adapted by Nixon for the present purpose, is very small. Cynical as I am, I was astonished to realise that behind the chairs and the risers is a Keurig coffee brewer and a soda machine. Call me crazy, but this doesn't look like ground zero in the war against fascism. (Would you accept a Pepsi from Hitler, much less pay him for one?)

Nearly all the chairs are assigned in advance by the White House Correspondents' Association to very big names. The rest of us have to fight for our seats -- and our lives. Outside of a combat zone you are unlikely ever to find people invested with a greater sense of purpose. …

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