Sean Spicer’s Book Tour Is Going Exactly as Well as You Expect
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer is early in a publicity marathon for his new book The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President, a memoir of his disastrous six months as President Trump’s mouthpiece. This morning, day three of Spicer’s press tour, we find him nestled deep in the cozy confines of conservative media: a softball Q&A session for Turning Point USA’s High School Leadership summit.
At a point in the promotional cycle when another high-profile author might be appearing on talk shows, Spicer is sitting for a Facebook Live session with a “campus free speech” organization best known for trying to own the libs by wearing diapers in public. From a sales and PR standpoint it might not even be a bad strategy, because over the past week—and throughout his short-lived political career—it’s become clear that Spicer falls apart the moment he comes within earshot of an actual reporter.
According to the Daily Beast, Spicer initially had trouble shopping a book at all. Unlike former George W. Bush press secretary Scott McClellan, he wasn’t willing to write a tell-all about working for a unqualified president. Instead, Spicer opted to continue defending his brief tenure incoherently defending indefensible policies put forth by a guy who reportedly spent much of his time spitting out bits of cheeseburger and screaming at cable news. But in December 2017, Spicer announced he’d finally found a publisher willing to release a rosy tale of clumsily lying on behalf of another clumsy liar: conservative imprint Regnery Publishing. The final product dropped this Tuesday (July 24).
We haven’t read Spicer’s book and don’t plan on it, namely because the man has never said anything worthwhile. Early reviews suggest he’s kept that bold streak alive—that is, unless you’re part of the conservative media. There, Spicer’s overtly sympathetic account of the Trump White House has found a warm welcome, including a presidential endorsement tweet. Unofficial administration mouthpiece Fox & Friends practically shot a commercial, sending correspondent Ainsley Earhardt to Spicer’s childhood home in Rhode Island to ask hard-hitting questions such questions as, “So, Mom, tell us what it was like to raise this amazing child?” For his part, Spicer gave an absurdly vague and passive account of how he came to lie about inauguration crowd sizes during his notorious first press conference. The segment is required viewing for anyone interested in seeing Spicer’s ninth-grade school portrait perched atop a fireplace mantle:
— Ainsley Earhardt (@ainsleyearhardt) July 23, 2018
Tucker Carlson’s online stepson The Daily Caller upped the ante by publishing an excerpt from Spicer’s book. Initially, the piece was packaged to look like an op-ed, pairing the adulatory headline “Here Is How Sean Spicer Made White House Briefings Great Again” with the byline “Sean Spicer, Former White House press secretary.”
Hey look it’s a Daily Caller op-ed about how great Sean Spicer was … written by Sean Spicer! pic.twitter.com/QpwD5Mo30b
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) July 25, 2018
The headline has since been edited.
Outside of the right-wing fringe, the coverage becomes exponentially more critical and contentious. Noted liberal outlet The Wall Street Journal published a scathing review by ABC News White House correspondent and frequent press secretary sparring partner Jonathan Karl, who likened Spicer’s book to his time behind the podium: “short, littered with inaccuracies” and devoted to pushing the increasingly flimsy narrative that “Trump can do no wrong.”
“Mr. Spicer has not been well served by the book’s fact checkers and copy editors,” Karl wrote. He also took issue with some of Spicer’s baffling prose, including referring to the president as “a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow.” Reviews from the Guardian and Washington Post weren’t much better.
If the critics were tough, Spicer’s appearances outside of right-wing media circles haven’t been any more forgiving. NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly kicked off her recent interview by grilling Spicer about the 2017 inauguration crowd size debacle, when the then-newly minted press secretary called an impromptu Saturday briefing, shouted some patently false statements about how Trump’s inauguration was the most well-attended of all time, and stormed out. After some back and forth, Kelly asked a broader question: Was it Spicer’s job to deliver accurate information to the press or was he there to simply “parrot” the president’s lies? Spicer seemed to trip over his own words as he answered her:
Spicer: No. My job is to say, if someone says, you know, what is—you know, in many cases, as I did say, the tweet speaks for itself. It’s not to interpret for him. I don’t think—that’s not—the job was…
Kelly: But when the tweet contains something that’s factually inaccurate…
Spicer: That’s—but again, it’s not—as a spokesperson, you’re not up there to play referee. It’s to say, this is what he thinks and believes.
Kelly: To cite an example that happened on your watch, when the president woke up one Saturday morning last year and tweeted that President Obama had ordered surveillance on Trump Tower, should you have corrected the record?
Spicer: I think what we—I mean, he, based on intelligence or whatever, tweeted that. I don’t have access to the same information he did. And I said, Mr. President, we’re getting questions on that. He said, this is how I want you to respond to it. That’s my job.
The reporter who took Spicer to task most adequately was BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis, who demanded he answer for poisoning global communication by endorsing Trump’s lies. “You joked about it when you presented the Emmy Awards, but it wasn’t a joke,” Maitlis said. “It was the start of the most corrosive culture.” She added: “You played with the truth. You led us down a dangerous path.”
BBC interviewer to Sean Spicer: “You have corrupted discourse for the entire world by going along with these lies” pic.twitter.com/HsvNLajwQu
— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) July 24, 2018
Spicer’s response was as articulate and convincing as we’ve come to expect. “With all due, uh, I’m sorry Emily,” Spicer said. “You act as though everything began and ended with that. You’re taking no accountability for the many false narratives and false stories that the media perpetrated.”
And on Wednesday, Spicer faced a vocal amateur book critic at an evidently thin crowd for a book signing at a New York City Barnes & Noble. “It’s a garbage book and you’re a garbage human,” a protester yelled, before being carted out of the store.
A source in Brooklyn sent me this video of Sean Spicer getting heckled at a book signing in NYC tonight pic.twitter.com/gDHLL95zui
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 26, 2018
Meanwhile, another book signing scheduled later this week at a BJ’s Wholesale Club in Seekonk, Massachusetts was canceled. “We got word last Friday the store was canceling ‘due to the political climate,'” a Regnery Publishing spokesperson told WPRI. “Of course, we were very disappointed, but also surprised since we have had such a terrific response to all of the other events we have scheduled around the country.”
Writing a political book judged incompatible with the “political climate” by the management of a BJ’s Wholesale Club is some kind of achievement. Unfortunately for Spicer, all the attention doesn’t appear to be moving copies off the shelves. Pre-order numbers were dismal, and business probably won’t be picking up significantly from here. Damn shame.