Murnane: Spicer is not up to the job

Updated 4/7/2017 5:51 PM

When I worked at, or for, The White House for Presidents Reagan and GHW Bush, among the most respected staff members were Larry Speakes, Marlin Fitzwater and Jim Brady, the men who served as press secretaries.

As a former newspaper guy (right here at The Herald), I was intrigued by watching these guys in action -- and behind the scenes. I had experienced what it was like from one side of the fence and now I could see what it was like on the other side. (Admittedly, not quite what it was like, because I didn't have to face the "thundering horde" or "rude and obnoxious" men and women of the Fourth Estate who wanted to know what was happening -- what was really happening -- not just the pap that showed up on background sheets or schedules.)


The job of press secretary to the President may be one of the most challenging jobs of anyone in a presidential administration. What?, some may laugh. Tougher than being secretary of state or secretary of defense during Vietnam? Or secretary of housing and urban development on a tour of Detroit or Chicago or other blighted areas?

Well, yes. The various Secretaries of This and That rarely had to stand in front of such a hungry (and experienced) crowd of reporters and commentators who had one goal in mind: get the story for the 5 o'clock news or the late-breaking afternoon edition of the newspaper. If you can make press secretary so-and-so stumble, better yet. If you can make him (there were no "hers" back then) get argumentative, even better.

Now, in the third month of the Donald Trump administration, I am waiting for the 45th president to decide he needs to make a change. If the press secretary is going to be the voice and face of the president, of the administration, he (or she) cannot be a laughingstock or a character on Saturday Night Live. Sean Spicer has been both.

He demonstrated his "priorities" when he -- and he alone -- made the crowd size at the Presidential inauguration the big story of the day. Almost as foolish -- but more serious in substance -- has been his insistence on arguing with the press types during briefings or in interviews.

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A glance at Sean Spicer's background shows a lot of involvement in communications for political organizations and campaigns -- but little (if any) actual experience as a practitioner in the news media -- either as a reporter nor editor. The presidential press secretaries I worked with, and knew in varying degrees, had actual news media experience. Spicer has PR experience -- mostly Republican oriented -- but apparently no legitimate news media experience.

The Trump Administration -- almost three months old now -- has a lot of problems and the world does not seem anxious to cooperate with him. Democrats in Washington don't either, but as is their frequent tendency, they will shoot themselves to stop the enemy. That seems to be what is happening with the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch. Democrats may very well embarrass themselves by trying to win a battle that the rules show probably cannot be won. It's kind of like the decision President-elect Donald Trump made to designate Sean Spicer as the voice of his administration. "I can do this, so I will. I don't care what the consequences to my party -- or my country -- are."

Unfortunately, that choice is not helping the American people better understand either what the president is doing or what the Democrats are doing. If Trump wants the country to be more optimistic about his administration, he might start by getting a better press secretary.

• Ed Murnane,, of Arlington Heights, is retired president of the Illinois Civil Justice League and a former staff member for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

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