I watch in near horror as Sean Spicer headed down the verbal path toward the horrendous claim that Hitler did not use chemical weapons “on his own people.” I was literally talking to the TV as I watched it live. Spicer mentioned World War II—“Oh no…don’t say it…don’t bring up Hitler.” Then he proceeded to plunge himself down the rabbit hole. I cringed and wondered how he was going to get out of this one.
As someone who has acted as a spokesman live in front of dozens of people in person and tens of thousands of people watching on TV, I know how quickly it’s possible to start digging a hole and not stop until it’s so deep, you become the issue.
The reporters in the White House press room actually felt sorry for Spicer and immediately gave him a chance to walk it back. He failed miserably at that as well, calling the gas chambers “Holocaust centers.” Yikes.
The reaction was swift. The Anne Frank Center lashed out. “On Passover no less, Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive form of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death,” the Center’s Steven Goldstein said in a statement. “Spicer’s statement is the most evil slur upon a group of people we have ever heard from a White House press secretary…President Trump must fire him at once.”
The thought here is that Spicer is not a Holocaust denier. The look of horror on his face one he realized what he had said spoke volumes. More likely is that he violated one of the very first rules of being a spokesman: never editorialize when it’s not entirely necessary. Answer the questions and stick to the fact adding emphasis (spin) when necessary.
Spicer also violated rule number two: Never, ever, under any circumstances, compare something to the Nazis, Hitler or the Holocaust. It never ends well. The Holocaust is a singularly horrific chapter in human history. It’s incomparable.
The real problem is that while I highly doubt Spicer is personally anti-Semitic, I’m not so sure about President Trump or other administration members. Trump’s default on the issue is that his son-in-law, his daughter and his grandchildren are Jewish. But this is also the administration that failed to mention the Jewish people when issuing a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
All of this said, Spicer’s self-inflicted wound is just another instance in which he showed he is in over his head. He piles up embarrassing statements like cord wood. Granted, he has the impossible job of cleaning up after an unstable boss. Instead of cleaning up Trump’s mess, he is creating his own. Spicer is Kellyanne Conway in a bunny suit.
I have studied a number of presidential spokesman having read books written by Larry Speakes, Marlin Fitzwater and Scott McClellan. None have had the kind of disastrous press briefings like those of Spicer. Saturday Night Live has made a mocking (and hilarious) joke out of Spicey.
It’s time for him to go.