Editor’s Note: Rob Crilly is a British journalist living in New York. He was The Telegraph’s Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent and was previously the East Africa correspondent for The Times of London. The opinions in this article are those of the author.
Rob Crilly: Sean Spicer has loyally dished alternative facts and endured humiliation
Leaving him out of the audience with Pope Francis could have been no accident
Here’s what I see when I look at Sean Spicer, President Donald Trump’s battered press secretary: A man who chews and swallows 35 pieces of gum every day, who routinely stands up before the assembled Washington media corps to offer himself up for a ritual flogging to deflect from the President’s latest misstep, and who knows he will never again be able to walk down the street without a passer-by reminding him that his entire life’s work as a Republican communications strategist has been rendered a cartoonish joke by a comedienne on a wobbly motorized podium.
I wonder if this is what he imagined it would be like to hold a senior White House position?
Presumably he expected it to feel less like being a punching bag.
No matter. His boss is famously loyal to those around him who show total devotion.
And who could be more devoted than the man who last month touched off a philosophical discussion of the meaning of “is” as he attempted to explain away yet another one of someone else’s screw-ups. Yes, he insisted, saying a US aircraft carrier was “on her way up there” need not relate to the current reality of a ship headed away from the Korean peninsula but to some unspecified date on a military planner when she would indeed steam vaguely in that direction.
Spicer has dished out alternative facts about any number of the President’s mistakes as his own reputation has diminished. He has gone from likeable flack, known for joshing with journalists, to a bitter adversary stoking feuds with individual reporters to please his boss.
This week we learned just how much that devotion was worth to President Trump. Nothing.
Along with his love of chewing gum, the other thing we all know about Mr. Spicer is that he is the sort of Irish American who drinks Guinness, owns a pair of shamrock trousers and who has made TV appearances on Ash Wednesday with the mark of the cross prominent on his forehead.
He is a proper Catholic, even giving up alcohol for Lent this year. (As a lapsed Irish Catholic myself, I know faith when I see it.)
This week, when President Trump traveled to Rome, should have been the moment when those merciless public flayings all became worthwhile for Sean Spicer. If working for the President was a career goal, then meeting the Pope was surely a life goal.
Leaving Spicer out of the audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican this week, while more junior members of the White House were present, could have been no accident.
Although Trump has shown little understanding of the Christian faith – trying to put a donation on the communion plate or getting tangled in the rights and wrongs of abortion – or indeed any faith, he cannot have failed to recognize his spokesman’s religious devotion and understood what a papal audience would mean to him.
In fact, the snub is the latest inflicted on his long-suffering spokesman. Remember those early briefings about how the President was unhappy with the way Spicer dressed (his suits were too light, apparently)?
It all bolsters the drip, drip, drip of innuendo suggesting the press secretary is on his way out, the latest sacrifice on the reset altar.
The only human response is sympathy. Even hard-bitten journalists who accuse the spokesman of lying or defending the indefensible during his news conferences have expressed shock at the slight.
All of which suggests that being press secretary to this particular president is an utterly thankless task. Trump clearly believes that the daily avalanche of negative headlines stems not from his own erratic behavior, frequent u-turns and ill-considered tweets but an under-performing spokesman.
Or maybe he simply believes his press secretary should be devoted to one patriarchy at a time.