Why News Networks Won’t Hire Sean Spicer
Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
Since he exited the White House, President Donald Trump’s former press secretary Sean Spicer has been feted by Hollywood at the Emmy Awards, nabbed a coveted slot as a fellow at Harvard University, and started lining up high-dollar speaking gigs for business groups. But his effort to monetize the political celebrity status he acquired by famously lying to the public before it fades has hit a major snag: Unlike many of his predecessors, he has reportedly found that the major TV news organizations are unwilling to sign him to a lucrative contract as a paid contributor. Per NBC’s Claire Atkinson, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, and NBC News have all passed on offering him a job. According to The Daily Beast, even the pro-Trump One America News Network isn’t interested in Spicer.
The networks are reportedly unwilling to sign Spicer to a deal for the same reason he became a household name: He has no credibility after lying for the president at a near-comical rate and serving in the vanguard of the Trump administration’s war on the press. And while Spicer himself continues to deny that he has a credibility problem, his first TV news interview — on ABC’s Good Morning America today — demolished any case for giving him a media gig. Over the course of his sit-down with Paula Faris, Spicer demonstrated an ongoing lack of candor and a refusal to take responsibility for his past actions that makes him a poor investment for a news network. Indeed, he seemed to vindicate their reported concerns, point by point.
Spicer’s lack of contrition for lying from the White House podium was reportedly an issue for network executives. And on GMA, Spicer furthered this impression. As Faris ran down one falsehood after another, Spicer denied that he ever “knowingly” lied to the American people, an obvious untruth that further dismantles his credibility.
Media executives reportedly worried that “they would be paying him to uncritically spout Team Trump talking points.” That was certainly the case during this morning’s interview. Spicer offered no criticism of the president. When pressed about the administration’s contradictory statements on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, for example, he described the president’s statement that he fired Comey because of his handling of the Russia investigation — a dramatic turnaround from the White House’s prior explanation of the firing that suggested potential obstruction of justice — as Trump setting the record “straight.”
“Some executives,” The Daily Beast reported, “were also not enthused about Spicer and the Trump administration’s ‘degrading’ treatment of TV journalists.” Asked by Faris about his “combative relationship with the press corps,” Spicer offered explanations before lashing out at journalists who had “questioned my integrity.”
Faris’ interview also opened up a new problem for Spicer’s potential employers. Spicer repeatedly refused to address questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump White House, including whether he had hired a lawyer or been subpoenaed. Every political contributor at a broadcast or cable network is likely to be called upon for segment after segment about that investigation in the coming months. Why hire someone who can’t (or won’t) discuss it — especially if the reason they won’t do so is for fear of their own legal jeopardy?
In fact, an item this morning from Axios’ Mike Allen demonstrates the confluence of Spicer’s ongoing mistreatment of journalists and the Russia investigation. Allen, who has known Spicer for many years, reached out to him for comment for a story about Spicer’s voluminous notes from meetings at the Trump campaign and White House potentially becoming an item of interest for Mueller’s investigation. Spicer responded by warning Allen that if the reporter continued sending him “unsolicited texts and emails,” Spicer would “contact the appropriate legal authorities to address your harassment.”
From time to time, journalists either mock or scorn individuals who don’t seem to realize the fundamentals of reporting — the people who seem to think journalists need to get permission to film public demonstrations, or request approval to quote from tweets. But Spicer isn’t an ignorant civilian — he’s a political communications professional with decades of experience who recently served in the White House, and he’s threatening a reporter with legal consequences for seeking a comment.
Imagine signing Spicer to a cushy network contributor gig, then needing to field requests for comment from reporters who want to know why your new hire is engaging in that sort of behavior.
Thus far, media outlets appear to be doing a solid job of refusing to reward Spicer’s atrocious behavior. That’s good news. As I warned in July, treating Spicer like any other flack and offering him a media gig after he left the White House would establish a horrendous incentive structure, in which those who lie to the public and try to undermine and berate the press receive no punishment for their actions.
This is a dramatic change in behavior from last year, when CNN hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was notorious for not only berating but also physically assaulting and sexually harassing journalists. For its money, the network got an unrepentant Trump shill, a series of ethical scandals, and the contempt and mockery of other journalists. Per the Beast, this PR disaster has been “instructive” for media executives “in what not to do.” I suppose the lesson is better learned late than never.
But the lesson is very expensive for Spicer, who apparently will not be drawing a six-figure salary from a media outlet anytime soon. He won’t starve, of course — there will be plenty of business groups willing to pay up to hear him speak, and no doubt he’ll be able to line up a consulting gig eventually.
Then again, given the hourly rate of the white-collar lawyers White House aides have been hiring to deal with the Mueller investigation, Spicer may need every dollar he can get.
Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters