Count me among those driving the unlikely ratings boom for the daily TV briefings conducted by President Trump’s embattled press secretary, Sean Spicer. I can’t turn the damn thing off because—as with his boss—while you can never tell what’s coming next, it’s almost guaranteed to be newsworthy, though not necessarily in the way Spicer intends.
For a longtime reporter, it’s fascinating to watch the big league White House press corps try to extract a straight story as Sean bobs and weaves behind the podium. And of course you immediately start wondering how Saturday Night Live and Spicer’s personal doppelganger, Melissa McCarthy, will play the latest episode next week.
Right at the get-go, there was Spicer’s amazing performance during which he berated reporters for not acknowledging that the crowd size for the Trump inaugural was the biggest in history. Without saying a word, Spicer communicated clearly that his boss had reamed him out for not selling this stupid spin to the hated “fake media.”
Once upon a time I served as public information officer for former Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands governor, Froilan C. “Lang” Tenorio. Fortunately, I was able to do this without wall-to-wall scrutiny, grinding out press releases, speeches and setting up press conferences in relative peace and obscurity. And there was no Melissa McCarthy mocking me on the tube each week.
Unlike President Trump, Governor Tenorio was not much interested in how he was portrayed in the local media. If he was ever upset about a story, I never heard about it. In other governor’s offices I had been familiar with, tight media strategies coordinated how stories were presented. Not in ours.
The Saipan press corps loved him for the most part, and it wasn’t hard to see why from my point of view. Once the reporters figured out his normal time of arrival at the office, they would stake out the parking lot. An impromptu news conference would ensue with the total cooperation of the governor.
At this point, the PIO (me) would sprint from his office to join the fray, needing to know at least what the governor was saying to the media, which of course we had not discussed or planned in advance. Come to think of it, it was not unlike what must happen after a Trump tweet-storm as Spicer and other senior staff try to explain or explain away what the boss just said. Fortunately, Governor Lang never came close to the level of the outrageous Trump-tweets.
At the time, I would have liked a little more attention to what I was doing in order to do a better job and of course, most of us appreciate an occasional “attaboy.” On the other hand, a senior advisor to the administration advised me to take the lack of feedback as a sign that I was doing a good job. Worked for me.
Before I went to work for Governor Tenorio, I operated a small public relations firm on Saipan. PR “flacks” are not noted for their dedication to absolute truth, but I never saw outright lying as an effective strategy. Besides, I was trading on a positive relationship with the local media, which helped my business. Compare that with Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts”, a.k.a., lies that pepper her comments and the presidential tweets. It is sad comment on the state of things in 2017 that the American commander in chief regularly denies statements he made—recorded on videotape—as “fake news.”
I am proud to say that I never had a client, including Governor Tenorio ask — or worse—demand that I lie for them. This seems to be what prevails at the White House these days.
I briefly had a little sympathy or even empathy for the beating Sean Spicer was sustaining daily, but I’ve gotten over it. If he is an honest person, a big if based on his first days on the job, he would have long since resigned.
Bruce Lloyd is a veteran journalist, who has been a longtime resident of Guam and Saipan. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.