Media's Public

Why the press secretary lies

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita

Publicists like Sean Spicer and Ernesto Abella present the news as best as they can to favor their bosses. But they can’t change the facts

CNN media columnist Dylan Byers last March 31 wrote: U.S. White House Press Secretary “Sean Spicer has lost his credibility.”

Spicer has been the target of attacks and the butt of jokes by news anchors, cable news commentators, late-night-show hosts and in Saturday Night Live sketches, which were as merciless as they could get.

And yet Spicer hangs in there, seemingly unperturbed by the storm he continues to create. Here in the Philippines, stung twice in controversy, Martin Andanar, communications officer and press secretary, took himself off the stage and presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella now talks with media instead.

Spicer, the 30th person to fill the job of press secretary, is no novice in the business of communication. He was publicist of the Republican National Committee and while there he was said to be affable, witty and had a good sense of humor.

Spicer’s behavior

At first blush the transformation should stun journalists covering the central seat of power in the U.S. Yet it could be explained by another look at the state of relations between the man occupying the Oval Office and media.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly called the U.S. media the “public enemy of the American people,” flogging it as an institution and thrashing news organizations and individual journalists. Is it not just a devious scheme to demean criticisms and devalue media’s capacity to call out wrongdoing and abuse? Bringing down media or, at least reducing its influence, would be part of the over-all goal of overhauling the structure of governance.

The press secretary is no more than a surrogate of Trump, a messenger of his gospel. Spicer cannot speak out the way the president doesn’t.

Someone wrote that it would seem Trump looks over Spicer’s shoulder as the press secretary briefs the reporters, as if he were egging him to stonewall and latch on to lies.

It’s war

It’s often said media takes an adversarial stance towards government. In the current state of relations between Trump and media, it’s a declared war. Trump issued the marching order.

The odd thing though is that the warring forces meet every day at the Brady room in the White House where reporters pepper Spicer with questions.

And they expect Spicer, “the enemy,” not to be dishonest, to tell nothing but the truth. He knows he has to be a scoundrel too like his employer or quit.

Handling lies

When the Trump camp said his inauguration crowd was “the largest audience to witness” a president sworn in, with presidential assistant Kellyanne Conway saying it was the “alternative truth,” Spicer pushed the version until the reporters presented contrary evidence. Could an “enemy” have done otherwise? Yes, worse.

Media, however, cannot handle the lie that way. They owe it to their audience to call down a falsehood or they would be no more than the faceless gnomes in the internet who peddle lies like candies at a bargain store.

What would be top decisions of government be like if they’d rest on fabricated “facts”? The people to whom government authority is sourced would be misinformed and deceived. But the Trump administration seems bent on doing just that.


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