Sean Spicer’s fumbling of current events has become one itself. News outlets rightfully, but at times aggressively, have begun to call Spicer out on his gaffes. Spicer was first mocked for inflating President Trump’s inauguration attendance and, more recently, struggling to navigate discourse around the chemical bombing in Syria.
According to Albert May, former government and public affairs editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and associate professor at GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs, the briefings always drew large audiences during times of crisis, but were otherwise fare for political junkies on C-SPAN.
Spicer’s role as press secretary, and perhaps the newsworthy nature of President Trump’s first 100 days, has made his daily remarks from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room a political must-watch and has expanded viewership. According to a survey by Nielsen, Spicer’s briefings average about 4.3 million viewers—causing a TV audience increase of 10 percentage points.
NBC’s Saturday Night Live is capitalizing on Spicer’s spice by making Melissa McCarthy’s rendition of the press secretary a featured character in skits and cold opens. In her most recent satire, she addressed the room of reporters as the Easter Bunny and called the President of Syria “Bazooka Felicia Hamad Rashad” in reference to Spicer’s pronunciation mishap earlier this month.
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) April 11, 2017
There is no question that President Trump has a strained relationship with the news media. But whether the strained relationship effects White House credibility is debatable.
“You either tune in to watch Sean defend the indefensible or to watch media bias in action,” former Marco Rubio campaign consultant Alex Conant told the New York Times.
In light of recent gaffes, Brent Budowsky, an opinion contributor for The Hill, called for the resignation of Spicer—claiming that President Trump needs a press secretary that is trusted by Americans and who will strongly recommend the president adhere to speech guidelines.
In light of Spicer’s recent Holocaust-related blunder stating that Hitler never gassed his own people like Bashar al-Assad did in Idlib province, TV news chyrons were quick to correct him mid-briefing and prompted organizations like the Anne Frank Center to call on Trump “to fire Sean Spicer.”
But not everyone agrees that Spicer is harmful to White House credibility.
“When the boss has a 43 percent approval rating and operates as his own outlandish mouthpiece, it is hard to assign a lot of impact to Spicer foibles, although they certainly don’t help,” May told MediaFile in an interview.
The press secretary owes the American press and people honesty, but is hired to sustain a certain message. The way they are able to walk the fine line between their credibility and keeping on-message is key to their performance as the Administration’s mouthpiece.
“Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, is an example of a complete loss of credibility during Watergate, and Clinton’s Press Secretary Mike McCurry is generally considered to have done a good job of maintaining credibility while defending his boss during the Monica Lewinsky scandal,” May said.
Unlike the Press Secretaries of years past, May believes that it is too early to completely judge Spicer—considering his style might prove beneficial to his career.
“Trump’s anti-media strategy and his obsessive media concern suggest that if Spicer gets too concerned with his own credibility, he’ll be out of a job, May said. “In fact, I would be very surprised if he still in the job this time next year.”