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A misfire in the White House Press Office

Armstrong Williams | 3/9/2017, midnight
I cannot say that I know White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer very well, personally.
Armstrong Williams

I cannot say that I know White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer very well, personally. And while I’ve been in the same room with him several times, discussed substantive issues in his RNC office during the 2016 presidential primary and even traded greetings, I’m not sure we would share a ginger beer as easily as others. But I will say that I feel he has been unfairly targeted for the most part in recent weeks and months, even notwithstanding the “Saturday Night Live” skits (which are funny, by the way—everyone should just know that).

As someone who has taken his fair share of attacks and spent more intense moments in a media spotlight than I care to remember, I feel for Spicer. Everyone knows he has a tough job. And more importantly, he works for a tough boss.

But these are also tough times for our country. After eight years of neglect, particularly from the standpoint of some voters, change is being demanded. And it is Spicer’s job to vigorously and even objectionably defend this president and his administration’s moves.

But one move uncovered last week by the media that has me dumbfounded deals with Spicer’s actions surrounding intelligence and the steps he took to submarine the stories.

Apparently, the White House didn’t like a breaking report midmonth alleging inappropriate contact between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Like any good press flak, Spicer moved to get in front of the story and try to squelch it. But HOW he went about it, and the steps he took, seem very amateur.

As I understand it, the press secretary called members of Congress and high-ranking administration officials, passing out cellphone numbers and office lines for key reporters breaking the Russian story. It sounds like he then demanded they call the reporters immediately—unsolicited—to say the story was false.

But the problem was there was no context for the contact. In other words, House leaders and individuals such as CIA director Pompeo were not contacted for a comment. They just cold-called the reporters. On top of that, even after the awkwardness of those first few moments, news reports state those intelligence officials couldn’t say anything more. How odd is that?

If a member of Congress phoned me without my initially contacting him/her, I would politely take the call, but with a cocked eyebrow as to its nature. Further, if all he said was, “Hey Armstrong, your story is false—never mind how I learned you were even writing a story or what all you do know, it’s false. No, I can’t say any more than that,” my reaction would be, Huh???

To add even more weirdness to this vignette, I also understand that Spicer somehow was able to listen in on the calls. I hope I’m wrong on that because if true, that’s even more perplexing.

In the rhythm and flow between journalists and press agents, there is a certain code, either spoken or unspoken. If you want to spike a story, take the time to get the facts straight, spread those facts across multiple channels to ensure accuracy and reliability, then make sure the reporters interested in that storyline intersect at the right time. You can’t microwave this stuff. It takes time. Foisting senior members of Congress and intelligence offices onto newsrooms without provocation is peculiar at best, and PR malpractice at its worst