When former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a self-mocking cameo appearance at the Emmy Awards last Sunday, I, like much of the audience, was surprised and delighted. I thought, “It’s so cool that Spicer’s able to laugh at himself, and we can laugh with him!”
Then I began reading reactions on social media and commentary from journalists on both sides of the political aisle. On Monday, retired CBS anchor Dan Rather wrote, “It is not funny that the American people were lied to. It is not funny that the press was attacked for doing its job. It is not funny that the norms of our democracy have been trampled.” Frank Bruni authored an angry column for The New York Times titled “The Shameful Embrace of Sean Spicer at the Emmys.” And Trump supporter Mark Dice, a YouTuber and self-described “media analyst exposing fake news,” labeled the former White House spokesman a “traitor” who “sold out.”
Spicer has made several public appearances recently, notably on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show. Following a clip of him telling the press that he’d never knowingly say something that wasn’t factual, Spicer explained, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” Kimmel asked, “Can we, though, disagree with the facts?” Spicer rationalized, “It’s my job to speak on (Trump’s) behalf. So if you’re not speaking in the way that he wants, obviously he wanted to make sure he corrected that.”
Last week I wrote about ethics, listing the Public Relations Society of America’s six core values. Among them was advocacy: “Serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent.” Then there’s honesty: “Adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.” Also included is independence: “We are accountable for our actions.” Indeed.
In retrospect, Sean Spicer’s legacy is that he failed PRSA’s ethics test and hurt the reputation of our profession. Maybe if he apologizes for disparaging the press and feeding us alternative truths — it might then become OK to laugh with him. Your thoughts?