4 Hot Takes from Sean Spicer’s Talk at Georgetown

JEFF CIRILLO: Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer sparred with a full house of Georgetown students Monday, discussing the media, his time in the White House and President Donald Trump’s relationship with the truth.

The talk, hosted by Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, was Spicer’s tenth appearance in the Washington, D.C. area since going on tour in July. He’s on the road promoting “The Briefing,” his new memoir about his time in the West Wing. (Oddly enough, I have now attended three of these book talks, enough to commit some of the former press secretary’s anecdotes to memory.)

Most of the stops on Spicer’s tour have been polite chats for friendly audiences: local Republican clubs, book signings or private dinner events.

But sparks flew at Monday’s event, as Spicer fielded pointed questions over his term in the White House, his views on the news media, and his former boss’s relationship with the truth.

Here’s what stood out, and what didn’t, from Monday’s talk:

  1. Comments on Kavanaugh

Spicer was cagey about a sexual assault allegation against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, after a student asked whether he thinks the judge’s nomination to the Supreme Court should be withdrawn.

Spicer said the allegation from Kavanaugh’s high school years, raised by California professor Christine Blasey Ford, “should be investigated.” He also had words of support for Ford, while noting that Kavanaugh has “adamantly denied” her story.

“She came forward. I think that takes a lot in this current environment,” Spicer said. “So she should be treated with respect and dignity, and [Kavanaugh] should be afforded the right to have his side presented as well. And then the senators have to decide what they believe.”

2. Enemy of the People?

President Donald Trump, Spicer’s former boss, often condemns the news media as the “enemy of the American people.” Does Spicer agree?

“No,” he said flatly, amid a tense line of questioning from the event’s moderator, Mo Elleithee, the executive director of GU Politics.

Spicer said the phrase unfairly condemns fair reporters along with the journalists he considers biased. Instead, Spicer said the more effective strategy is to “call out the bad and exalt the good.”

Still, Spicer criticized the news media intensely for what he said was their overwhelming liberal bias. The press has long covered Republicans unfairly, Spicer said — especially Trump. He cited a report by the conservative Media Research Center, which found 92 percent of broadcast news coverage of the Trump administration is negative.

“It seems hard to justify that only eight percent of the coverage of this president is positive in some way, shape or form,” Spicer said.

3. Georgetown Jokes

It sounded like Spicer had studied up on Georgetown humor before taking the stage Monday night.

When an audience member said he was a fan of watching Spicer’s press briefings, the former secretary quipped that “we have to work on extracurricular activities at Georgetown.”

“Someone take him to The Tombs, would you,” he added.

Spicer also said reporters from either of Georgetown’s campus newspapers, the Hoya and the Voice, would have been welcome to attend a White House press briefing while he was in charge. To the best of my knowledge, no students were aware of this. Spicer said he allowed a wide range of media outlets to attend briefings, including right-wing websites such as Breitbart and Gateway Pundit, because he felt it would be a “dangerous path” for him to decide “who got in and who didn’t.”

4. The Point: Spicer Still Can’t Handle the Truth

Spicer occasionally divulges mild regrets in the form of self-deprecating jokes: When an audience member brings up Melissa McCarthy’s comedic portrayal of Spicer on Saturday Night Live, he says “she had some good material to work with.”

But when it comes to his parroting Trump’s biggest fibs, from the claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in the 2016 election to the quarrel over inaugural crowd sizes, Spicer is still grasping for a coherent answer — and not taking too much blame. What stands out most through three iterations of Spicer’s book tour stump speech is he isn’t keen to reckon with his own role in spreading the president’s untruths.

He said he never had moral or ethical qualms about anything he said from the podium. He would disagree with the president in private, but ultimately it was Spicer’s job to “communicate his views and beliefs,” whether they were true or not.

“And at some point, if you grow to a point where you feel uncomfortable,” Spicer said, “then I think, frankly, it’s incumbent upon you to resign.”

Max Magid