By Patrick F. Cannon
In his short career as the president’s press secretary, Sean Spicer has been required to defend the indefensible. I have never seen him less than uncomfortable doing it. I suspect he knows his boss is incapable of telling the honest truth about even the simplest thing. Yet he continues his fruitless efforts to explain the unexplainable. To his credit, it must be almost unbearable to face a White House press corps that has lost all respect for both his boss and him.
In my career as a publicist, I was never asked to lie for my employers. With one exception, my job was to explain their activities to various constituencies, including members, customers and the public. That one exception was a short stint as director of public information for the City of Chicago’s Department of Public Works. My superior was the legendary Earl Bush, the first Mayor Daley’s press secretary. His City Hall office was unmarked, and looked like the lair of a chronic hoarder. On the few occasions I submitted news releases for his approval (mandatory), I never heard of them again. It took me a few weeks to figure out that his job was to prevent the press from getting stories. I then understood what all those piles of paper were.
In a long life, almost everyone is occasionally faced with a moral choice. Should I take the expedient but morally dubious choice, or simply do the right thing? In looking at his biography, I see that Spicer has spent most of his career working for political campaigns, for members of the House or Senate, and for the Republican National Committee. In that last job, he even spent some time denigrating the candidacy of none other than Donald Trump.
His turnabout reminds me of a story I’ve told many times. Early in my career, I worked in general management and marketing for a small institutional beverage company. Although the office was located in the Chicago area when I started, they decided to move it to the plant location in Lake Mills, Iowa, a farm community of some 2,500 folks. The business was seasonal to an extent, and during the winter we hired farmer’s wives for the packing lines. The plant manager, a local man, fired one of them for reasons I can’t now recall.
The aggrieved woman consulted a local lawyer. Now, he was an older man and had been one of the last lawyers in the state to pass the bar before you had to graduate from law school. Anyway, lawyer Larry (as I’ll call him) showed up one day and asked to meet with the plant and personnel managers, who worked under me. I attended the meeting, along with the comptroller. Larry then proceeded to list all the horrible and unfair things the plant manager had done to his client, suggesting that a law suit might well be her only recourse unless we paid her a handsome sum instead.
Having heard him out, the plant manager and then the personnel manager went through long lists of her sins and omissions. It took awhile and when they were done, lawyer Larry sat in stunned silence for a moment. Then, recovering his aplomb, he said: “Well, I’ll tell you what. If you want, I’ll slap a suit on that cookie!”
Sean Spicer has spent too long working for politicians. His moral compass has been skewed by the magnet of being close to the center of power. When his boss lies, he seems able to swear to it. Will he ever reach the point when even he gags on his own words?
Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon