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Spicer, Sanders: Both look miserable as they dish out contempt

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reacting to a reporter's question during his daily briefing on Tuesday.

As one who has spent many years as a spokesperson for private and public organizations, I’m particularly interested in the briefings given by Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy press secretary. As are millions of non-spokesperson Americans.

When I see Spicer and Sanders lob toward reporters assorted vowels and consonants that often are more smoldering cauldrons of hot oil than credible answers, I often ask why one or both of them is not told, “You’re fired.” Then I wonder why one or both don’t resign. (Now it appears Spicer may be taking on a new role.) I ask the same about other White House appointees, but since I’ve been a spokesperson I’m restricting this commentary to these two, who usually look as miserable to be behind the briefing room’s storied podium as many of the journalists crouched near the podium.

I’m interested in Spicer and Sanders for a number of reasons, including their apparent suffering and the idea that they seem to be completely getting away with treating journalists (including some very highly esteemed specimens) with disdain bordering on hatred. Of course, given the fact that they work for someone who considers the press to be the enemy of the people, I shouldn’t be shocked by their sneers or what seems to be no matter of consequence for their behavior.

But I am shocked by their willingness to dish out such contempt as well as their willingness to be in jobs that neither seems to enjoy. That I don’t get. Even though they work for the president of the United States. Yes, even though they currently work for the president.

When I watch Spicer and Sanders toss hot oil, I sometimes think about some of the more difficult situations I’ve been in during my spokesperson career and whether I always did the right thing to try to maintain my reputation and integrity.

Mary Stanik

For some years I was a spokesperson for the University of Minnesota medical center. Most of the time, the job was enjoyable (even though I saw death more than a fairly young person trained in journalism should) and immensely educational. But when mighty scandal plagued a number of faculty members in the mid-1990s, local, regional and national news organizations dug with understandable ferocity into the scandals. There were pre-scandal times when I thought I had it rough when journalists complained to my superiors about my not allowing them unfettered access to doctors and patients. Those times were open-bar cocktail parties compared to trying to obtain information from some internal sources who did not want to tell me much of anything about anything, and then provide what information I was able to wrest to some reporters (only a few, but enough) who considered me the enemy of the people simply because of my job duties. When events were approaching their darkest depths, one former professor and one journalist told me that, for as much as I still respected the vast majority of the center and its people, as well as the reporters I worked with, if I didn’t get out soon, I just might need a lawyer — and that employment anywhere else depended upon getting out. So, I left. Years later, I had another job where I worried about my reputation being unnecessarily sullied and I quit much sooner than I might have had I been in the position years earlier.

When I felt the worst as a spokesperson, I often thought about Gerald Ford’s first press secretary, Jerald terHorst. The respected terHorst is best known for resigning only one month into the job, as a protest of Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. I think of terHorst quite a bit when I watch Spicer and Sanders, especially when I consider that he quit not only because of the pardon, but because he was one of the last of Ford’s staff to learn about it. In his resignation letter, terHorst wrote that “I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon. …” To me, and to most spokespersons, the key word there is credible. Spokespersons, even if they work for the president of the United States, must retain credibility. They must. Otherwise they may as well jump into hot oil.

For the country’s sake and, to a lesser extent perhaps, the sake of the spokesperson profession, I hope Spicer and Sanders think about putting the oil cauldrons in storage and engage in credible, extensive career contemplation. And soon.

Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, formerly lived in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.” 


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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Michael Hess on 06/20/2017 - 04:25 pm.

    Style vs substance

    While you rightly critique their delivery dripping with contempt I’m also struck by the willingness to lie.

    They lie about big things, and small things. They promise non existent followup.

    They could continue the lying with a pleasant demeanor and it would be just as damaging to their credibility and as useless to the press core, in fact if I got a magic wand and could fix one of the two I’d take honesty delivered with disdain.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/21/2017 - 09:25 am.


      The lying itself is bad. What’s worse is that they are so incredibly bad at it.

      It insults our collective intelligence that they think people can’t see through them.

      • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/23/2017 - 12:41 pm.

        Why should they care?

        As long as they’re still getting paid . . . . . . . . . .

        • Submitted by Misty Martin on 06/26/2017 - 11:49 am.

          They should care for one reason . . .

          and that reason is . . . INTEGRITY. A quality sadly lacking in the world of politics (or in a lot of corporate businesses as well, for that matter) but nevertheless, a quality that is needed SO DESPERATELY in our country today.

  2. Submitted by Mary Manuel on 06/20/2017 - 06:47 pm.


    One can clearly see the misery on both their faces.
    It is nice to hear the perspective of someone who has done
    a similar job and knows the inside story of how it should be done.
    I especially liked learning about Jerald terHorst and those of you to whom credibility and integrity mean something.

  3. Submitted by Jan Arnold on 06/20/2017 - 07:35 pm.

    Finding a New Position

    By this time, based on what the “fake news” reports about the Trump White House and the bad,really bad conditions the employees work in, I would assume both Spicer and Sanders have shopped their resumes. They probably found that their current status is Yugely responsible for them being seen as unemployable in the real world.

  4. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 06/21/2017 - 10:22 am.

    What many folks do for a living is morally compromising.

    For those without good options, sublimating this recognition is survival strategy. For those with options, sublimation is pathology.

    There can be no job more torturing to the soul than to serve as the public face for this administration, lying and deflecting daily and with every word to a national and international audience to facilitate the incalculable damage the administration aims to cause. To be able to sublimate this fully would indicate pathology without limit. Perhaps the pain on the face of Mr Spicer or Ms Sanders is evidence that he or she has yet some small sliver of moral awareness.

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/21/2017 - 06:00 pm.

    Ms. Sanders is in this as a nepotistic appointee (Daddy’s girl), and she has never shown that she’s more than that. She is incompetent.

    But Spicer: He had a nice career going for himself before Trump picked him to be his “communicator.” I have never been able to explain why Spicer stays in the job. He knows he’s lying; he knows he’s being outrageous with the press (one of the necessary pillars o which our democracy rests), ; he must know how despicable he himself has become. Somebody must have promised him something for him to stay–or maybe, given Trump’s propensities–somebody threatened him with punishment, or retribution, if he leaves before Trump has a chance to “repeal and replace” him as if it were Trump’s initiative, not Spicer'[s ow wish to leave.

    Would you hire Sean Spicer to speak for your company?

    Didn’t think so.

  6. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 06/22/2017 - 08:46 am.

    I have wondered the same

    What I have heard of Mr. Spicer is he is loyal to a fault. Serving as the spokesperson for any administration is a difficult job, but this is beyond the pale. Recently some one sent me a job posting as a communications director in a federal agency. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to a subject (and organization) I know and love.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/26/2017 - 09:13 am.

    I actually enjoy watching their torment

    No one forced these guys into this, they’re there by their own choice, they earned this. Anyone with ANY integrity would have quit long ago rather than go before the media with such contempt and duplicity. Their misery is the price they pay for bringing such dishonor and dishonesty to our political process, and these are stains they will live with for the rest of their lives. This will not end well for either one of them.

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