Opinion: Sean Spicer might be out soon but little will change | Opinion | DW | 21.07.2017
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Opinion: Sean Spicer might be out soon but little will change

Sean Spicer’s exit as President Trump’s spokesman - six months after he took up the job - was long overdue. But if the first press conference of Trump’s new PR guru is any indication, little will change.

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines a sycophant as a servile self-seeking flatterer. It appears to be a spot on description for how Sean Spicer saw his role as President Trump's press secretary.

Granted that every spokesperson serving at the pleasure of a politician, a business or a civil society leader better make sure he or she is fundamentally in line with the boss. And of course it is rarely beneficial for the messenger to outshine his or her superior.

At the same time, the ultimate goal of a spokesperson is obviously not to please the ego of his or her boss, but to credibly deliver a message. To do that he or she must have the boss' full trust and also the trust of the recipients of the message.

DW's Michael Knigge

DW's Michael Knigge

Fine line

All of this means that a press secretary always walks a fine line between pleasing the boss and being seen as a credible interlocutor by the media. But what can be a tough job under normal circumstances is an almost impossible job under an impulsive, unadvisable and self-centered individual like President Trump.   

Sean Spicer, who worked with Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, must have known what he signed up for when he took the job and must have thought that he could perform the required tightrope act. Turns out he couldn't.

Spicer was essentially finished with the job before it really began. That's because in his very first - infamous - press conference he not only aggravated the media with his aggressive style, but lost journalists' confidence with his false claims about the size of President Trump's inauguration audience.

From then it went downhill, so much so, that the spoof and real battles between Spicey, as he was nicknamed by comedy show Saturday Night Live, became must-see TV. This, in turn, reportedly outraged President Trump who hated to be upstaged by his spokesman becoming, quite literally, a joke.

Donald Trump telefoniert (Reuters/J. Ernst)

President Trump with his team in January 2017

Praising the boss

It was probably at that point that Spicer was doomed as spokesman, a fate he could not escape even by repeatedly heaping undeserved praise on the president. This included Trump's first foreign trip to Saudi-Arabia which he called "historic" and by claiming, after the president's visit to Europe, "we've never seen before at this point in a presidency such sweeping reassurance of American interests and the inauguration of a foreign policy strategy designed to bring back the world from growing dangers and perpetual disasters brought on by years of failed leadership."           

Spicer was so eager to please and still suffered numerous slights from his boss - including Trump's refusal to take his Catholic spokesman to a meeting with the Pope. But Spicer ultimately resigned because he reportedly believed Trump's new communications director Anthony Scaramucci was not up to the job. It is again deeply ironic and fresh comedy fodder.

Anthony Scaramucci with Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders

Anthony Scaramucci with Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders

Professing love

But don't expect substantial changes from the new White House communications chief. That's because Trump's new public relations guru is likely to soon face the same dilemma Spicer faced: that it is impossible to square the circle and please the president and be respected by the press at the same time. In his first press conference, Scaramucci hinted where his preference lies by professing his "love” for the president.  And just for good measure Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway of "alternative facts” fame is also still around to help shape the president's communication if necessary.

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