Flak Under Fire

FEB 27, 2017 | Reprinted from Mullings.com

By this morning you know two things: First, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screwed up the presentation of the biggest award of its year. Second, President Donald Trump is at war with the Washington press corps.

I’d love to hear from you on which you care about more.

I don’t know much about the movies, so I’ll leave The La-La-Land/Moonlight fiasco to the real news outlets.

I’ll stick with what I actually do know a little about: The “Fake, phoney, fake” news outlets around which I’ve spent most of my life.

I started out in politics as the news director of WMOA Radio in Marietta, Ohio 45750. Immodestly, I was taken under the wing of the beat reporter for the local newspaper, the Marietta Times.

His name was Jerry Condo. He’d gone to the University of Missouri School of Journalism (Mizzou J-school in the parlance of the time). The first time we interviewed the Mayor together he took me aside and said: “When he’s answering, concentrate on what he’s saying, not on what your next question is going to be.”

I know, Reporting 101. But with Professor Condo showing me the way, I got pretty good at it.

I came to Washington to be a press secretary. I got a job with a Republican Congressman from the western suburbs of Chicago, John Erhlenborn. A great first boss.

I knew how to be a reporter, but I didn’t know how to be a press secretary. For that I leaned on every other Republican press secretary in the U.S. House. I went to every lecture, every meeting, every reception and soaked up the culture and the techniques.

I got pretty good at that, too.

Over time I came to understand that I was a good press secretary because I had been a good reporter: I knew where the story was, because it was what I would have zoomed in on had I been on the other side of the desk.

Knowing where the incoming is coming in from, gave my bosses an advantage in either heading the story off altogether, getting to it early enough to soften its edges, or knowing that it was aiming straight at us and making the best of a really bad situation.

That brings us to Sean Spicer.

I’ve known Spicer for decades. We were both Congressional press secretaries. He has been the communications director for the House Republican Conference (what the Dems call the Caucus), and was the head spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. He was Comms Director of the Republican National Committee from 2011 until he was appointed White House Press Secretary earlier this year.

He is also a Commander in the Naval Reserve (the equivalent of a Lt. Col. in the Army, Marines, or Air Force).

I give you all that history because Sean Spicer isn’t a nephew of Donald Trump who was given this job to keep Trump’s sister-in-law quiet.

He is fully qualified, but he is failing at it.

What Mr. Trump doesn’t understand – doesn’t want to understand – is that being a business mogul in New York and being President of the United States are not the same thing. He also doesn’t – or won’t – understand that being a press agent for a business mogul and being the press secretary of a President are not the same thing, either.

I’ve been the spokesman for Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich, so I have some feeling for what happens when the mainstream press turns its heavy artillery on your guy.

But, both Quayle and Gingrich understood the role of the press and of the press secretary.

Donald Trump understands neither.

It’s not fair to blame Sean Spicer but the title “White House Press Secretary” is very, very seductive. And he was seduced.

Spicer has only one path forward: He is going to have to resign; sooner, probably, rather than later.

White House advisor Stephen Bannon said of the press last week “Every day it is going to be a fight.” Some days there’s just nothing to fight about. So, you announce the President is not attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Or, you lock some media out of a briefing. Or, the President gives a speech calling the media the “enemy of the American people.”

Spicer knows he is not going to change the President. He should get out with what is left of his reputation. He doesn’t need to be ugly.

He just needs to be gone.

Editor’s Note: Rich Galen is former communications director for House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Dan Quayle. In 2003-2004, he did a six-month tour of duty in Iraq at the request of the White House engaging in public affairs with the Department of Defense. He also served as executive director of GOPAC and served in the private sector with Electronic Data Systems. Rich is a frequent lecturer and appears often as a political expert on ABC, CNN, Fox and other news outlets.